Jan 8, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) starts the fast break against the Kansas Jayhawks at Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — There is no way to spin this one. I was wrong — and I am here to admit it.
I said all week I thought Iowa State had the players to match-up with Kansas on Wednesday night in Hilton Coliseum. Repeatedly, I told people I thought it was actually one of the better matchups for Iowa State in Big 12 play with its mix of frontcourt players and Kansas’ lack of prolific 3-point shooting.
I was wrong. I was very, very wrong to the tune of the second-worst conference loss in the history of the Cyclones’ hallowed home arena.
Kansas won 79-53 on Wednesday in a game that large factions of the Iowa State fanbase probably did not even see due to its broadcast on the new digital platform ESPN+. Those of you in that boat, consider yourself lucky.
This could be the spot where I tell you about the purely schematic things that went wrong like the Jayhawks being left to hit 6-of-8 shots from deep in the first half, and 10-of-19 for the entire game, or poor transition defense that allowed Devon Dotson to be the best player on the court, scoring 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field with six assists and three steals.
At this point, none of that really matters, because there is a bigger problem at hand for Iowa State basketball as it dives head-on into the Big 12 storm. The Cyclones are missing something that cannot be measured by tangible metrics like shooting percentage or rebounding margin and it is something this year’s Kansas team, a squad that belongs squarely in the conversation as college basketball’s best, has in bunches.
That thing is competitive stamina.
“Individuals and organizations with that “competitive stamina” gene never think they have done enough and anything,” reads a post on the website The Daily Coach. “They have no mantles in their homes or offices for any trophies. It’s always about the next chance to compete, the next moment to win, and, most of all, the next opportunity to display domination and excellence.”
To help you understand this void, let me take you back to the 6:57 mark in the first half of Wednesday night’s game with the Cyclones trailing Kansas 25-23 and all the momentum seemingly shifting towards the cardinal and gold.
Iowa State had been active and energetic defensively. On the offensive end, they were looking for, and mostly finding, good looks even if not all of them were going through the net.
Steve Prohm’s team looked poised to hang around with the nation’s No. 3 team. But, then the media timeout ended and Kansas’ intensity ratcheted up a notch. Their competitive stamina took them into another gear that Iowa State would have to match if they had any hope of keeping pace.
Two minutes later, the Cyclones trailed by 11. They had started turning the ball over against Kansas’ hyperactive defense that entered the contest rated No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They had begun forcing shots and the numbers reflected that as they made just one out of six after the under-eight timeout and prior to the under-four.
Four minutes and a 21-3 Kansas run later, Prohm’s team was heading to the locker room facing a 20-point deficit and the game was over for all intents and purposes.
When one team took the intensity to another level, their competitive stamina carried them through to halftime. Meanwhile, their opponent became panicked and allowed the game to be taken to them.
The Cyclones got punched in the mouth and the team’s glass jaw had never been more apparent.
“We didn’t get a stop and couldn’t score. That’s not a recipe for success at all,” Iowa State sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton said of the last several-minute stretch of the first half. “That really hurt us in that last eight to 12 minute stretch in the first half.”
The constant repetition of people saying this year’s Iowa State team needs to be tough, gritty and defensive-minded is starting to sound more like a pleading broken record than a statement of faith.
Prohm has been saying it for months. The media has been writing about it all along the way while the fanbase and team continue to hear it repeated over and over.
It is so blatantly clear that this is the only way Iowa State will have any chance of reaching high-level success this season. It will not be with the free-wheeling, fast-paced offensive attack that pushed the Cyclones into their golden decade of the 2010s.
Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Marial Shayok, Talen Horton-Tucker, Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton and Lindell Wigginton are not walking through that door.
This team and program have to be built on something different than it has since the days of Larry, Wayne and Greg because they just simply do not have the firepower it takes to keep up with teams like Kansas on nights like this, when not everything is going Iowa State’s way.
They have to be able to make things go their way through grit, hustle and a mentality of being a tougher S.O.B. than the one standing across from you. They have to be willing to turn every basketball game into a glorified backyard brawl, also known as the way Bruce Weber has sustained success at Kansas State over the past decade or so and how Chris Beard is building a powerhouse down in Lubbock.
But, outside of a few stretches here and there, that has not been Iowa State basketball. It still is not Iowa State basketball no matter how much the coach talks, the media writes or the fanbase hears about it.
“Well, you know we were a top-25 defensive team in February (last year)? We were one of only seven teams last year at the start of Feb. 1 that was top-25 offensively and defensively in the country. We’re capable. We’ve done it,” Prohm said. “My second year, I think we had one of the highest defensive ratings ever in the history of the school. We did it last year up until that three-week stretch (late in the season). We’ve got to be tougher. Schematically, as a coach, I’ve got to figure out different schemes and then we’ve got to go out and execute and be tough-minded with it. When (Kansas is) icing that ball-screen and (Marcus) Garrett, he’s into you, we’ve got to be able to do that same thing. (Rasir) Bolton’s athletic, Tyrese is long, Prentiss (Nixon) is tough, Caleb (Grill) is gritty and Tre (Jackson), those guys, they’ve got to be able to do that. We’re capable because we’ve done it. You watched us play Seton Hall, you’ve seen us at moments do it. We’ve got to be able to sustain it. We didn’t guard Kansas at all tonight from beginning to end.”
There was never any doubt Kansas would be the more talented team on Wednesday night. Bill Self’s program is more talented than basically every team they play every single season and, probably, always will be.
The disappointing thing in my mind was watching Kansas be the team that played considerably harder, too. The Jayhawks were the team that played with a heightened sense of urgency like junkyard dogs prepared to get down and dirty.
The Cyclones were able to match that intensity early in the game, but the magic of Hilton Coliseum is only going to carry you so far and right now the magic is on life support after 14 losses over the last three years, more than the previous eight seasons combined. Iowa State now has a below-.500 record at home in conference play during that same stretch, capped by a defeat only surpassed by a loss to this same Kansas program in 2003 as the worst home conference loss in the building’s history.
The energy of Hilton Coliseum, the drive created by proving haters wrong or whatever the heck else carried Iowa State for roughly 13 minutes on Wednesday night against Kansas, but the other 27 minutes require something else.
Those minutes require competitive stamina, something this Iowa State team continues to lack.
“We split with Seton Hall… We played Michigan to a six-point game. We beat Alabama. We’re very capable,” Prohm said. “Seton Hall we competed like crazy on the defensive end. It was a tough, physical, physical game. They pounded you and beat you up. We have to figure out how to get that swagger and toughness back on the defensive end. I like our guys. I believe in our guys.”
Hopefully, they can prove me wrong sooner rather than later.