ISU has made 22 more shots on 20 fewer attempts in the second half of games

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In 10 consecutive games, the Iowa State men’s basketball team has scored more points in the second half than the first. The only exception was the season opener vs. UNC-Wilmington.

 In 9 of 11 contests, the Cyclones have made a higher percentage of their shots in the second half (exceptions: Kansas City and UNC-Wilmington), too.

 ISU has had some first-half offensive struggles this year. Each time, they’ve rallied to win and (nearly) each time Coach Fred Hoiberg said that moving the basketball better was the remedy.

 The comparative statistics between first and second halves of games is noteworthy.

 ISU has made 22 more shots in the second half (plus OT vs. UNI) on 20 fewer attempts.

 It is connecting on 43.9% of its shots in the opening half and 53.2% in the final stanza.

 The Cyclones have failed to shoot 50% in the final 20 minutes only twice (.483 vs. Michigan and .486 vs. UNI) all season.

 Iowa State is in the Top 5 nationally is assists per game. In essence, that’s ball movement. Ball movement means better shots. Taking better shots (normally) means a higher percentage made.

 Not surprisingly, Iowa State has 92 first-half assists and 111 second-half assists

 If the Cyclones continue to display their second-half scoring success (46.3 points) and ball movement, they’ll remain a tough out all season long.

 And, if they get improved ball movement in the opening half, look out.

Fall sports campaign closes and Cyclones register their best-ever finish

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The Big 12 has closed the books on its fall championship season and Iowa State’s third-place standing is its best ever.

 Here are the relevant facts at this juncture of the season-long all-sports competition:

  • The Cyclones won the Big 12 championship in women’s cross country, their third straight title;
  • The men’s cross country team was runner-up, its best mark in 17 years (ISU was also second in 1997);
  • Two wins to close the season moved the football team into a tie for 7th (after being picked for 9th) in the conference standings, its best since 2005;
  • The soccer team made the league tournament with 4th-place finish, its best since finishing 2nd in 2005;
  • The volleyball team (3rd place) recorded its fifth consecutive Top 3 finish in the league;
  • Five different schools – Iowa State (WXC), Oklahoma State (MXC), Baylor (FB), Texas (VB) and West Virginia (SOC) won fall team championships.

 Here are the full Big 12 all-sports standings (after 5 sports):  Longhorns, Cowboys, Cyclones, Mountaineers, Bears, Sooners, Wildcats, Red Raiders, Jayhawks and Horned Frogs.

Two dozen schools will play January bowl games. It’s not the same achievement as it once was.

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A New Year’s Day bowl game has long had special meaning. The first one – named the Tournament East-West Game – was staged in Pasadena, Calif. The match-up between Stanford and Michigan took place on Jan. 1, 1902.

The contest was so one-sided (Michigan won 49-0) that the local Tournament of Rose officials decided to stage events other than football games for the next 15 years as part of their annual celebration. Among the competitions were chariot and ostrich races. College football returned to that scene in 1916 as a re-branded entity called the Tournament of Roses football game.

For decades, the Rose, Orange (which started in 1934), Sugar (1934) and Fiesta (1971) bowls has had the nation’s rooting interest each January with a bowl game.

For teams that qualified for January play, it was significant bragging rights. You had to be special to get invited to a game in the first month of the new calendar year.

Twenty-four schools in 12 different bowls will play on New Year’s Day or after this season. It’s a crowded field of January bowl games in ‘14.

What’s interesting today is the wide range of qualifications for the January bowl participants. To build up good resumes, schools should have to win games against good competition.

Here is a list of 2014 January bowl participants ranked in reverse order according to the winning rate of the teams these schools defeated.

For example, the combined winning percentage of the 8 schools Vanderbilt defeated was 27.1%.

SEC:  Vanderbilt (.271)

MAC:  Ball State (.296)

Mt. West:  UNLV (.321)

Sun Belt:  Arkansas State (.325)

Big Ten:  Iowa (.396)

Big Ten:  Nebraska (.398)

Amer. Athletic:  UCF (.402)

C-USA:  North Texas (.402)

Big Ten:  Wisconsin (.416)

Amer. Athletic:  Houston (.449)

Big Ten:  Ohio State (.451)

Big 12:  Oklahoma (.458)

SEC:  LSU (.459)

SEC:  Alabama (.474)

Big Ten:  Michigan State (.476)

ACC:  Clemson (.479)

Big 12:  Baylor (.496)

SEC:  Missouri (.508)

Big 12:  Oklahoma State (.508)

SEC:  Georgia (.510)

ACC:  Florida State (.519)

SEC:  Auburn (.552)

Pac 12:  Stanford (.579)

SEC:  South Carolina (.593)

Boldface indicates school in the major bowls (National Championship, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar, Rose)

If the measures above have any merit, some of the best games appear to be Oklahoma vs. Alabama, Oklahoma State vs. Missouri and Auburn vs. Florida State.

 

Big 12 has honored 4 different Cyclones as Player of the Week; no school has ever had 5.

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Georges Niang’s game-winning shot with 18 seconds left vs. Iowa last week earned him Big 12 Player of the Week honors. That wasn’t a big surprise considering the sophomore registered 24 total points, 5 assists and 2 steals.

 What may have been surprising is that Niang was the fourth different Cyclone so honored this year. He joined Naz Long (Nov. 11), Melvin Ejim (Nov. 18) and Dustin Hogue (Dec. 9).

 Only one other school in league history has produced four different Player-of-the-Week honorees in the same season. Kansas did it twice.

 Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson accomplished it a year ago. Thomas Robinson, Releford, Tyshawn Taylor and Withey were honored in 2011-12.

 Iowa State’s honorees have come in the opening 6 weeks of the season. The ’12-13 KU quartet was honored over an 18-week stretch and the ’11-12 foursome earned awards over a 16-week period.

 Prior to this year, the most Cyclones honored in one year were three – Jared Homan, Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock – in 2004-05.

 Coach Fred Hoiberg preaches teamwork and sharing the ball. That leads to everyone having a role in the action. It’s nice to see the Big 12 honoring that quality of this Cyclone team.

 It’s worth noting that Iowa State’s Deandre Kane has twice been honored as the league’s Newcomer of the Week and he’s still in search of his own Player of the Week honor.

 No Big 12 school has ever had 5 different players earn weekly POW honors in the same year.

It starts in the trenches: O-line continuity an excellent indicator for success

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While channel surfing a couple weeks back, the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game caught my attention. One of the analysts was suggesting the Wolverines had suffered massive challenges on offense because of an ever-changing starting lineup on the o-line.

 “They’ve had to use five different combinations this year,” I’ll paraphrase the announcer as saying in his defense of the Wolverines’ inability to rush the ball.

 For context, realize that Iowa State had nine different starting combinations on the line in ’13.

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 Six years ago, a football statistician named Jason McKinley, introduced a statistic called the “OL Continuity Score”.

 It measured how much change/stability that NFL teams had in their offensive line starting lineups throughout a season.

 With a perfect score – meaning the same five starters played every game – of 36, here is how the Big 12 schools would have ranked for “OL Continuity Score” in 2013:  Kansas State (31), Baylor (29), Texas (26), West Virginia (25), Oklahoma (24), Oklahoma State (21), Texas Tech (20), TCU (18), Kansas (16) and Iowa State (14).

 That order ranking closely resembles the final league standings. The outlier is West Virginia. The Mountaineers were fourth in the continuity stat but tied for seventh – with the Cyclones and Horned Frogs – in the league standings.

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 Michigan may have had some problems with continuity on its offensive line last fall. Their “OL Continuity” for the 2013 score was 20. I wish the Cyclones had been so fortunate.

ISU adapting more quickly to new “hands off” defensive posture for college hoops

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When college basketball season started a month ago, there were criticisms about the way the game was being refereed.

 Off-season rule changes had been made to improve the game and allow for better freedom of movement. But, many said there were too many fouls and too many free throws.

 Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg liked the idea that offenses would be better able to execute. Recent statistics from the NCAA comparing this season to last year show some interesting trends.

 The data confirms that scoring is up (+5.43 points per game), FG percentage is up (+1.41 percent), turnover average is down (-0.55 per game), fouls are up (+2.0 per game) and FT attempts are up (+5.0 per game).

 Those things add up to better offense and, in the long term, a better game to play and watch.

 How do those same stats look for Iowa State’s team – comparing this year to last – after 8 games? The Cyclone trends are even more dramatic than the national numbers.

 Scoring is up (+.8.4 ppg), FG percentage is up (+3.6 percent), turnover average is down (-5.1 per game), fouls are up (+2.13 per game) and FT attempts are up (+8.63 per game).

 The Cyclones are scoring nearly 8½ more points per game than a year ago and their opposition is also scoring more (4.6 ppg). The net gain, however, is that Iowa State’s scoring margin is 3.8 points better than last season.

 The most interesting stat is that free throw attempts by Cyclone opponents are up only marginally. ISU foes shot 152 free throws through 8 games a year ago and they’ve attempted 153 after 8 games in 2013-14.

 Hoiberg’s offense this year – with less hand checking allowed – has been even better. But, he’s also worked hard to make sure his team isn’t fouling significantly more in the new rules environment.

 The Cyclones have adapted pretty quickly to the way games are being call, especially compared to their peers across college basketball.

Friday night showcase once again benefits the Cyclones

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Members of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had the opportunity to watch two of the schools they’ll likely be seeding in several months as Iowa State hosted Iowa Friday night.

 No other match-ups between nationally ranked schools were played that evening. The contest was aired nationally on one of ESPN’s networks.

 The stage for the Cyclones and Hawkeyes was similar to the one that Paul Rhoads and his football team had two seasons ago when it hosted No. 2 Oklahoma State on a Friday night on national TV.

 A similar result took place then and Cyclone Nation, once again, celebrated a huge victory all weekend long.

 The in-state hoops battle between ISU and UI cemented the outstanding reputations of both schools. The game was hard fought, well played and offered edge-of-your-seat excitement.

 As Dick Vitale would say, “it was super, scintillating and sensational.”

 When you are building a program like Fred Hoiberg, you embrace the chances you receive to perform on the big stage.

 Earlier this season, a basketball game vs. Michigan had similar hype. Iowa State delivered in that game, too, with Vitale sitting courtside.

 “I honestly have no idea how we won that basketball game,” Hoiberg said late Friday night.

 You don’t need to explain how, Fred.

 Members of the selection committee surely saw it with their own eyes and the record sheets they’ll consult in March will simply show: Iowa State 85, Iowa 82.

 A strong post-season resume is taking shape in Ames.

Buckley responded to the bright lights just as Fennelly had hoped and suggested

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“I actually think this is a game (vs. Iowa) that Jadda (Buckley) needs” – Bill Fennelly said Monday.

 Buckley scored a career-best 19 points and calmly ran the offense for large parts of the Cyclones’ convincing win over Iowa. Her point total was built on drives to the basket and converting 14-of-16 free throws. Through her first 8 games as a Cyclone, the Mason City native attempted slightly more than 2 free throws per game.

 Fennelly’s early week comments about Buckley were spot on.

 With Nikki Moody limited to 25 minutes because of fouls, Buckley had the ball in her hands a lot against Iowa. She committed one turnover in 38 minutes despite the glare of her first Iowa State vs. Iowa encounter.

 “Maybe the brighter the light, the bigger the game will be good for her,” Fennelly said three days ago. “At least, that’s what we’re hoping for.”

 And, what Fennelly hoped for from Buckley is what he got.

 Fennelly said that the Iowa natives on his roster sometimes have the hardest time with the in-state game against the UI. In the next breath, however, Fennelly said that he and his staff needed to get the talented Buckley playing a bit better.

 Buckley responded. Let’s hope it’s just a start.

Elite play and good offense should be on display in Hilton this week as ISU plays host to UI

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It’s the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series on the basketball court this week and that means a couple of things.

 First, the intensity will be sky high Thursday (women’s game) and Friday (men’s game) in Hilton Coliseum. Second, the nets will likely be sizzling if early season returns are any indicator.

 The Cyclone men’s team is scoring 91.7 points per game (3rd-best nationally). The Iowa men are scoring 89.5 points per game (9th-best). The Hawkeye women’s squad is 19th-best in the nation with 84.1 points per game and the Iowa State women are 24th nationally (82.1 ppg).

 Both ISU coaches noted their upcoming defensive challenges.

 “The thing they are great at is transition offense,” Hoiberg said. “They really get out and run.”

 “They have a lot of people they can put on the court who can score at a high level,” Fennelly said of an UI club with five double figure scorers. “That’s rare, very rare, in our (women’s) game.”

 The Cyclones, of course, counter with their own offensive prowess.

 Hoiberg has 5 players scoring in double figures and a sixth at 9.9 per game. Fennelly has three double figure scorers on his roster, but he also has a wildcard.

 “We have an All-American on our team,” Fennelly said of Hallie Christofferson (25.0 ppg). “Lots of teams say they have an All-American because they’re promoting them. We have one and that’s not up for debate.”

 Beyond the scoring averages, the four teams have 2 other pretty significant numbers worthy of praise.

 Those numbers are 34 (as in wins) and 2 (losses).

 The ingredients are there for a memorable week on the hard court.

Fennelly: “It’s a great way to celebrate what these two universities are about”

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Bill Fennelly put this week’s in-state basketball games with Iowa in perspective Monday at Iowa State’s weekly news conference.

 “These are the kind of weeks that get everyone excited and it’s great for our state,” Fennelly said. “It’s a great way to celebrate what these two universities are about and it’s an honor for (us) to be a small part of it.”

 When Fennelly took the reins of the ISU program in 1995-96, the Hawkeyes weren’t on the schedule. He was told the omission was because the Cyclones weren’t competitive. That’s no longer the case and Fennelly has enjoyed the annual tug-of-war since.

 Fred Hoiberg’s feelings about the rivalry are based upon a playing and coaching career.

 “It’s a fun game to be a part of,” Hoiberg said. “I loved playing in this series and it’s fun to be coaching in it as well.”

 Players underlined the excitement and importance.

 “Every time this game comes along – whether it’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, women’s basketball – it’s an anticipated game no matter what the sport is,” ISU sophomore Naz Long said.

 Long is a native Canadian, but he understands what is at stake. So, too, does Georges Niang, another out-of-stater.

 “When you get a chance to play a quality program like Iowa, it’s a big game,” Niang said of Friday’s foe, who will enter Hilton Coliseum with the label of college basketball’s best team (mathematician Jeff Sagarin has the Hawkeyes ranked No. 1 this week).

 The build-up is just beginning and it’s not just in the respective fan bases.

 “The athletes care about it, too, and we’re as eager as everyone else,” Long said as the countdown to the tip-offs continue.