Basketball

Tuesday Five: Expectations, freshman records, March predictions

Enjoying the ride

Have you ever noticed that whenever an ex-athlete speaks about their playing days, there is a very common theme from what is missed the most? Getting to play the sport that you love and compete in is always a given but what is so commonly missed more than anything else?

The bus rides. The idle time before practice. The locker room. The meals. The camaraderie.

When the guys that are privileged to play at the Division 1 level that have worked so hard for their opportunity reflect on their careers and what they miss the most, the answer is commonly the experience—the ride—and not just the results of the games.

Results matter. As we’ve seen in the past 14 months there is a baseline of success required to make the experience—the ride—more enjoyable.

As fans, we can’t logistically experience what the team does in the same way that they do, but, we can create our own experiences that matter and that we can thrive on.

This season has been one big overachievement that literally zero people in this galaxy could have, would have, or did predict. But the human perception of how things make us feel can be a curious thing.

If you can, think back to the home win over West Virginia in 2013. The one where freshman Georges Niang made a layup with a few seconds remaining to get the win. Other than that final offensive play that game in which the Cyclones built up an 18 point lead with nine minutes remaining is largely considered an afterthought in Cyclone lore.

Now, tell me how you feel about March 2nd, 2015? Do you remember the game that day? You know the one that the athletic department just released a seven-year anniversary video of the comeback win over Oklahoma. The Cyclones trailed 48-28 with 15 minutes to play before scoring 22 straight points as part of a 31-4 run over eight minutes of game time.

That run versus the Sooners was remarkable but the 47-22 favorable stretch to take control against the Mountaineers wasn’t too shabby either.

We perceive slow starts and comebacks differently than fast starts and hanging on for the win. Maybe it is the excitement or maybe it is a recency bias thing even just within a game. But it is absolutely true.

That scenario at the micro-level of a game is similar to how this season has played out. Part of the angst in the “bad losses” has everything to do with our expectations changing after the first 13 games of the season. The curious thing to me is that expectations only ever go up… they never go down even if they reasonably should with all of the information available.

What’s the point?

Enjoy this season for what it is, what it has been, and what it still could be. The position the program is in is still a shocking turnaround from just 12 months ago. Don’t let the order of the game results trick you into forgetting that this team would have been in the running for the worst team in the American Conference a year ago per KenPom. Remember that the team this year is basically neck and neck with two other teams for being the 6th best team in the Big 12, when the Big 12 is far and away without dispute the best league in the country and 130 places better in the KenPom rankings.

Admittedly, I’m the guy that is constantly trying to figure out how to be invested enough to maximize enjoyment from wins but not so invested that the rough losses make me grouchier than normal for my family to hate me.

Sometimes we’ll get emotional or angry when things go sideways, but this team has earned our support perhaps more than any other team I can recall when you think about the river they crawled through a la Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.

Results matter. Honest perspective matters.

Try to find joy in what they have accomplished, we all know how hard that has been the past two seasons. In my opinion, they are playing with house money, and while my expectations have been exceeded, I’ll still be living and dying with them through March.

The turnaround

There has rightfully been a lot of talk about the historical turnaround completed this season in terms of the number of wins, and rightfully so. In the end, the Cyclones won seven more conference games than last season and increased the winning percentage by 0.389.

The plus seven wins is the third most in Iowa State history to 2011-12 going 12-6 and winning nine games more than the previous season (with a winning percentage increase of 0.479) and the 1999-00 finishing 14-2 in league play with eight more wins than the prior season (with a winning percentage increase of 0.500). The only other notable one-season turnaround after 1944 came with the 1977-78 squad that increased the win total by six games and the winning percentage by 0.443.

Freshman records

Tyrese Hunter has had to carry an unbelievable amount of weight as a freshman this season and while there have been some struggles and growing pains, we should be nothing short of elated for his future in Ames.

He has already set new records in total steals (59) and assists (155) among freshmen that have played at Iowa State with at least two games to go, but he also leads in those statistics in per-game numbers. His 5.0 assists per game as a freshman lead Curtis Stinson’s 4.3 and his 1.9 steals per game also lead Stinson’s first year of 1.67.

The crazy thing I wonder about with a team that has had issues scoring, is how many assists could he have if this team had a bit more offensive talent to share the ball with?

Defensive closers

In Iowa State’s recent four-game win streak, three games were nail biters up until the end, and all three required and utilized a late defensive stop to propel the Cyclones to victory.

At TCU, Iowa State was up one and TCU had the ball with 13 seconds remaining. The Cyclones were solid and TCU had perhaps the worst possession in a situation like that in which humanity has ever seen. Regardless, the defense did the job and solidified the win.

After Izaiah Brockington’s heroics against West Virginia, the Mountaineers still had a chance to win when they took possession with 20 seconds and a one-point deficit. The Cyclones forced a tough runner and then battled, scraped, and clawed to eventually secure a rebound and ice the game.

In Manhattan, Iowa State clung to a two-point lead when Kansas State was awarded the ball with 15 seconds left thanks to officiating that was a travesty at best. Jaden Walker manned up with Nijel Pack and was able to force a ball-handling mistake where Tyrese Hunter hit the floor first and Walker was ultimately able to come up with possession for ISU to hold on for the win.

Three games in two weeks with the defense sealing the victory. Going back through results and my own memory bank, the win in Lawrence in 2017 required a stop to force overtime, the win at Cincinnati in 2016 won with defense and a two-point lead in the final 11 seconds, the 2015 two-point home win over Oklahoma State was thanks in large part to Dustin Hogue blocking a 3-point attempt on the final play, and two home wins versus Iowa in 2013-14 and 2015-16 protected late leads for the win.

What other ones am I missing? Regardless, getting the game-sealing stop isn’t as prevalent in our recent history as winning with a dominating offense. But three of them in two weeks is a little bit too much for our collective blood pressure.

Postseason projections

I have no prediction for the Cyclone men in Kansas City because literally, anything can happen in that building with this program, but I suspect they’ll struggle to score against Tech and have a hard time seeing them getting further than the semis or even out of the first game with Texas Tech.

They have been erratic on offense all season and always susceptible to major struggles of putting the ball in the hole. Their defense has carried them and in March, that can be tough depending on what kind of whistle is granted in the tournament. Short of knocking off Texas Tech and others in Kansas City, they seem destined for the 8/9 line in the NCAA Tournament.

They’ll have to make shots and the first game against any team will be a root canal, but should they win, they’ll be dangerous in the second round. They have proven that throughout the season.

For the Cyclone women, I think they’ll finally get past Texas (assuming they beat Kansas State) to set up a showdown against Baylor in the Big 12 final. As much as I’d love to get them back in that game, they are loaded, playing really well, and a tough matchup in general.

In the big tourney, I think we need to buckle up for a run so long as we get a reasonably favorable draw.  This team has the capability to shoot the ball better than almost any other and if they get the offense flowing they’ll be incredibly dangerous.

I can’t even quantify how much more Bill Fennelly knows about basketball and his team than me, but I’d really like to see a small lineup with Ashley Joens at the five, surrounded by four shooters, and just try to survive on defense. It may be the changeup/trade-off necessary to get the bigger and more athletic teams off balance.

David Carr will repeat. That is the end of my wrestling analysis.