CF Mash-Up: Christopherson, Haaland and Stanz answer five questions about ISU hoops’ stretch run

In this piece, Jared Stansbury, Scott Christopherson and Kirk Haaland weigh in with their answers to five questions about Iowa State men’s basketball’s upcoming six-game stretch to close the season.

What do you think was the biggest thing that held Iowa State back late against Kansas State? 

SC: I think the team’s inability to stay mentally locked into their game plan for 40 minutes was ultimately what lead to their demise. It was clear in the first half this team was set on imposing its will on Kansas State on both ends of the floor with its aggressiveness and assertiveness. In the second half they got complacent, then panicked, and lost sight of what got them a 15-point lead, to begin with. If you are not able to enter your offense without turning the ball over multiple possession in a row, it is hard for me to believe you are mentally locked in. It was a collective collapse. 

In the last couple of minutes of the game, they did a poor job of getting the ball to Izaiah in spots on the floor where he could make a play. I think it would help this team out in those moments to have a few set plays to isolate him and let him either create the shot or make the play for someone else to close out the game. 

KH: The run of turnovers and the inconsistent offense were what stuck out most to me. They can be capable when there is good ball movement and good player movement but oftentimes toward the end of games more sets are run to leverage the time and score situations (not just Iowa State, but all teams), and in those situations the offense becomes robotic and can easily be stunted. If the action isn’t there they seem to try and force it which leads to those bad and brutal turnovers. Instead, you’d like to see them read and react but as much as I love these guys and how they play they are limited by their lack of pure offensive talent. It is a balance between trying to scheme their shots and asking them to play free when the freedom could lead to a more ugly result. That, and maybe I am projecting, but their confidence just seems rattled. They’re in a rut and pulling yourself out of a rut like the one they are currently stuck in while playing good teams is really hard.

JS: This team is just so limited once it gets into situations that leave it with no options besides improvising. That ability to improvise was part of what made Fred’s teams and two of Steve Prohm’s teams so hard to defend. Even once an opposing team blew up the initial action, they had the guys to make something happen outside of the flow and structure of the “offense.”

Other teams have done a great job of scouting Iowa State and what the Cyclones want to do offensively with their actions. Once K-State made it a point to blow all of those actions up with physical ball-pressure and jumping the passing lanes, this team started to shy away from that rather than going towards it full steam ahead. It allowed K-State to knock Iowa State completely off its game in organizing on the offensive end then the lack of ability to improvise shined through.

What do I think about the most recent changes to the rotation? 

SC: I think they were made to send a message to the team that if you are not going to embrace executing the details of your role and produce you are not entitled to playing time. As a coach, if you think your message is not getting across with your dialogue, you must use the bench and I do not blame TJ for going to that this past week. 

KH: I honestly don’t feel strongly one way or the other because prior to the changes the minutes played were basically the same for guys like Grill and Kunc. The big change is no Enaruna, less Jackson, and increased run for Walker. From what fans have been able to see all year, I don’t think we can really be in a position to criticize those decisions too much as they are all flawed but also individually and collectively inconsistent.

JS: Tristan Enaruna’s departure from the starting lineup (and, apparently, rotation) goes back to what I wrote about Tristan a few weeks ago. He’s simply too inconsistent defensively and doesn’t give them enough offensively to make up for that defensive inconsistency. That makes sense if you understand the foundation T.J. is trying to lay down, but, on the other hand, I don’t know why it took more than 20 games to figure out that change was needed if that was the case. I’m guessing there must be more to Jackson’s situation than what we know publicly at this point, because, despite playing poorly against Texas, he’s been largely solid all year. I’ll be watching his minutes more closely over the next several weeks.

Do you think this team looks tired? 

SC: I think this team looks as though it has lost belief that the things that made them successful early are enough to win games in the Big 12. The early stretch in this league broke down their confidence in my opinion. This time of year, everyone is tired but the teams that seize the opportunity to play for an NCAA tournament bid or conference championship tend to rise above that and the teams that have lost belief in their early-season mantras look tired. As the mind goes, so goes the legs.

KH: This question is probably so much more in Scott’s wheelhouse that I will really defer to him on it. Physical fatigue over the course of the season can be so tough to measure when we just see them for games. I’m sure it is there and I’m sure other teams are in the same spot but it seems to me that it is more often than not just a default reason for the result-based analysis. Were they tired in Stillwater? Were they tired for the first half on Saturday? Granted, at the beginning of the season this team relied so heavily on their effort and intensity and that made all of the difference but I also think they are just seeing consistently better talent and the scouting report is out.

Mental fatigue on the other hand almost has to be there. Hardly anything has gone right since the calendar flipped to February. Mentally they have to be worn out and wondering if they’re doing the right things. When they played so hard so consistently through the first 15 or so games the rewards were always there and made it a lot easier to mentally commit to how they needed to play, but that is a much tougher task when they are in the current situation.

JS: I think there have been nights when this team looked like it didn’t have its legs underneath it as it did earlier in the season, but that’s the case for every team in college basketball. I certainly do think mental fatigue has heavily set in and that probably plays a considerable role in Saturday’s second-half meltdown. As you start to get physically tired, it becomes harder to lock into what you’re trying to do mentally. Plus, this team already looks tentative once their backs are against the wall as they start to play not to lose rather than playing to win. I think the question of fatigue with this team boils down more to being able to mentally fight through adversity than it does anything on the physical side.

What does this team need to do in the next three weeks to be an NCAA tournament team? 

SC: They need to win a minimum of four games and for that to happen they need to execute 40 minutes of their plan for 6 straight games. In the next 240 minutes of the season, they can not afford to take a minute off. That is their margin for error at this point in time. 

KH: I think for the most part their body of work has proven that they are an NCAA Tournament caliber team but that doesn’t always get you into the dance. They likely need at least three wins before heading to Kansas City but that would put them on very, very thin ice. The other thing we need to remember is that this stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are 357 other Division One teams playing basketball and a ton, if not all of the teams in the Power Six leagues can have an impact on how Iowa State’s resume is viewed and how they rank next to their peers.

JS: They’ll probably need at least three wins during this last six-game stretch, but four would make me feel more comfortable. As much as anything, I want to see this team give the NCAA Tournament committee a reason to put them into the field besides what they did in November and December. Those things are great and they look great on the resume, but nobody can watch this team over the lasts several weeks then tell me this looks like an NCAA Tournament team. It simply doesn’t.

As a fan, I’d rather see a team that is peaking towards the end of the year get into the tournament over a team that played great in November and December, then wasn’t good at all for most of January and all of early February. The Cyclones have six games (plus Kansas City) to give us all a reason to believe they truly deserve to be one of the 68 teams left with a shot at the national title.

Do I think this team will make the NCAA tournament? 

SC: I do not. I have not written something all year that I hope proves to be wrong more than this. This team has been a joy to cover despite their struggles. However, you can only give so many games away and eventually it catches up with you. Here is to hoping that in three weeks that I have 1000 fans replying to this saying I was silly to write this.

KH: I hate this. In early January, I was as pleasantly surprised as everyone but also like many others I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. My heart says, “yes” but my head says, “I’m terrified”. But fortune always favors the bold, so I’ll say YES… I think.

JS: I hate to say it, but, no, I don’t. As I wrote above, I just don’t think this team has played like an NCAA Tournament team consistently enough over the last month and a half to lock them into the field before whatever transpires over the next couple of weeks. I need them to show me they’re playing NCAA Tournament caliber basketball again before I’ll get back on that train.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.