STANZ: Back to dictating

Iowa State University Cyclones head coach T.J. Otzelberger reacts during the during the first half against Kansas at Hilton Coliseum Saturday Feb. 4, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. Photo by Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune

Iowa State needs to get back to dictating.

That is the only point in this preview for Monday night’s home finale against West Virginia. Iowa State is currently slated as a 3.5-point favorite.

The Cyclones must get back to dictating the game to their opponent in their last opportunity in front of the home fans, especially coming off Saturday’s disappointing home loss to Oklahoma.

Since Jan. 14, the day Iowa State lost to Kansas in Lawrence, the Cyclones have lost nine of 13 games. Those losses have largely been a product of having games dictated to them rather than the other way around.

In that span, has Iowa State’s offense ranked No. 117 nationally in adjusted efficiency, No. 302 in effective field goal, No. 289 in turnover rate, No. 208 in free throw rate and No. 314 in 3-point percentage.

Those are the numbers that make up what KenPom calls “The Four Factors.” They’re a solid indicator of what has allowed an offense to have success.

Or in Iowa State’s case, lack of success.

The Cyclones rank in the bottom-100 in college basketball over the last month and a half in nearly every one of those key statistical factors.

Why is that?

Games are being dictated to Iowa State.

The Cyclones continue to be forced into difficult shots due to their inability to break defensive pressure down off the dribble. They’ve also been very poor from 2-point range in this span, shooting 48 percent, which ranks No. 262 nationally.

Only Jaren Holmes has consistently proven he’s capable of breaking defenders down off the dribble and getting to the rim during Big 12 play. He’s shot more two-pointers than anybody on Iowa State’s team in league play by nearly 30 attempts.

He’s also shooting 40.6 percent on those shots inside the arc, and is finishing on 53.4 percent of his shots in the painted area.

Teams in the Big 12 have been able to pick up on the fact Iowa State has only a few players capable of actually breaking someone down off the dribble and getting to the basket or creating a shot for themselves.

They know Gabe Kalscheur and Caleb Grill are going to best thrive in catch-and-shoot scenarios and are running them off the 3-point line, daring them to drive by and to the rim as a result.

Iowa State’s biggest problem offensively right now is that it does not have a guy it can throw the ball to in a pinch and tell him to go make something happen. Think Izaiah Brockington. Think Marial Shayok.

You add either of those two guys to this Iowa State team and you’d have the pieces for something potentially pretty special. Unfortunately, neither of them will be walking through the door at the Sukup Basketball Facility between now and the end of the season.

The turnover concerns can be attributed to opponents’ ability to pressure Iowa State’s ball handlers without little fear of what the Cyclones can do in response.

Iowa State’s inability to handle the ball through pressure was exposed in its loss to Missouri, and has become a lingering problem throughout the rest of Big 12 play. Whether teams use a full-court press, like Missouri did, or not has not mattered.

There simply is not someone on this Iowa State roster who scares opposing teams purely with their ability to make something happen on the offensive end.

The Cyclones’ success this season has been a product of each player bringing their own individual gifts to the table to elevate those around them. Their intensity and stubbornness as a collective is what strikes fear in opponents rather than their pure talent.

Teams have been able to force Iowa State to play like a team relying on pure talent, though, by dictating the style of play to them.

This might draw some snickers, but I was listening to NBA champion and now ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins’ new book, The Education of Kendrick Perkins, on Sunday afternoon. The way he wrote about the 2007-08 Boston Celtics’ defense stuck out to me as it instantly reminded me of Iowa State, and, really, the entire Big 12.

“Defense in basketball at any level, including the NBA, looks to the average fan and even to many serious students of the game, as reactive,” Perkins wrote. “The offense does something and the defense responds in relation to it. This is partly true, of course, and this type of purely reactive defense is how many teams in the league play, especially during the regular season. Truly special defenses, and I’m talking about the Bad Boy Pistons, Pat Riley’s Knicks, Jordan’s mid-1990s Bulls or our Celtics team, anticipate offensive strategies and attempt to dictate the style of play to the offense. In these cases, the offenses, far from controlling play, is actually reacting to the power of the defense. This is the type of active, aggressive offensive defense that is often the key element of a championship team.”

Iowa State has been playing reactive basketball, and that’s disappointing when they’ve proven to have the ability to play at the kind of level Perkins describes there. Obviously, not in an NBA context, but the Cyclones have proven over the last two years to have the type of culture that can produce that style of play at a very high-level.

The Cyclones have not been that kind of team recently, though, even on the defensive end, where they rank No. 271 in effective field goal defense, No. 356 in free throw rate defense and No. 274 in 3-point defense.

Even Iowa State’s turnover rate, which has been its saving grace at times and calling card for two years, ranks only No. 48 nationally since Jan. 14. This is a team that still ranks No. 2 nationally in that statistic and spent the majority of the season at No. 1.

Iowa State is no longer dictating games to teams on either end, and the Cyclones do not have enough talent on their roster to make up it when they’re not able to dictate the style of game.

The good news is there’s still time.

There is Monday night in Ames. There is Saturday in Waco. There is next week in Kansas City. There will be a 22nd NCAA Tournament bid in program history in a couple of weeks.

Doing something like building the type of team Iowa State wants to have is not something that happens overnight. It is something that is really hard to sustain even once you’ve found it. It takes a lot of time, and takes a lot of commitment from a lot of people to get done.

Take it from Perkins as he describes what he called the best defense in the history of the NBA.

“We were in the words of (Kevin Garnett), ‘a pack of wild hyenas, ready to attack anyone, absolutely fearless.’ How long did it take to build that defense? All damn year, including the playoffs,” Perkins wrote. “Defense isn’t a thing a team builds and that then sustains itself or gathers its own momentum. It needs to be constructed possession after possession through focus, determination, self discipline, communication and trust.”

I love the first part of that quote because I feel like it is a perfect description for the way Iowa State has played this season when they’ve been playing their best.

The Cyclones still have time to find that team, again, but it is running short.

Monday is about dictating.

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.