Under any measure, Cyclones off to a great start

Fennelly, Bill_Texas_2014-15

As the Big 12 women’s basketball race moves to the mid-point of the season this week, Bill Fennelly’s Cyclones are in third place with a 5-2 mark.

“We’ve had some close ones go our way,” Head Coach Bill Fennelly said. “We’re 5-2, which is great. Some people say you’re close to being 6-1 (but) we’re close to being 2-5 (too). The thing in this league is ‘can you find a way to win the close ones?”

Iowa State’s most-recent close encounter was Sunday’s one-point victory at eighth-ranked Texas. The Cyclones had never previously defeated a higher rated opponent on the road.

Three of ISU’s five conference wins have been decisions of five or fewer points. Iowa State, in fact, has more “tight” league wins than anyone else. TCU is 2-0 in close encounters and league leaders Oklahoma and Baylor are both 1-0 in games decided by five points or less.

Another measure that Fennelly referenced Monday was the way that former Iowa State men’s coach Tim Floyd measured the league standings. Earn one point for a road win and lose a point for a home loss. Road losses and home wins are neutral.

With Floyd’s benchmarking preference, ISU is at plus-2. Baylor and Oklahoma are +3 to lead the pack. TCU, at +1, is the only other school with a positive mark.

The true conference standings have ISU in third place. They’ve done it by winning close games and protecting the home court. If the Cyclones can continue those trends, they’ll be at the top of the Big 12 standings and positioned well for post-season play.

Storylines got twisted, but Cyclones gain win over ranked foe

Morris, Monte_Oakland_2014-15_5

One of the oft-repeated storylines about Iowa State’s basketball team is that when the 3’s aren’t falling the Cyclones struggle on offense. Those, who favor that analysis, aren’t tracking the right stat.

The Cyclones really get humming when the assist column is filled.

Facing the nation’s second-best FG% defense (Texas), Iowa State shot 55% from the field and scored 89 points.

They did so by assisting on 20-of-29 field goals. Combining that assist total with just six turnovers is more key than efficiency from three-point range.

“We extended it to 21 (in the second half) with great play,” Coach Fred Hoiberg admitted. “I thought our guys were playing for one another and the ball was really flying around that (long Texas) zone.”

The other storyline Monday night was the Longhorns’ long-range shooting. UT was eighth in the Big 12 in three-point percentage and had averaged fewer than six per game.

In a rousing comeback, the Longhorns made 7-of-9 three-point shots in the final eight minutes to turn the game into a classic match-up between Top 20 opponents on national television.

Another showcase game in the Big 12 was staged in Ames.

It was a wacky game. Storylines didn’t match tendencies. But, it was entertaining and a Cyclone win over a rated foe.

With four players registering at least three assists and ISU making just six three pointers, it was a win based upon sharing the ball. That’s the real storyline.

Sunday’s victor takes a big step towards title

Moreno, Mike_Virginia Tech_2011-12

The wrestling match between Iowa State and Oklahoma State on Sunday pits the eighth-ranked Cyclones against the seventh-rated Cowboys.

It projects to be a tightly contested competition, and the winner will take a huge step towards a conference championship.

“We want to be Big 12 champions,” Iowa State’s Kevin Jackson said Monday. “That’s our goal. That’s our plan.”

Oklahoma State has the same goal. They’ve won four of the last five conference titles.

“There are a number of swing matches,” Jackson said, as he listed 141, 157, 165 and 184.

Nearly half of the bouts, at least in Jackson’s estimation, are toss-ups. That’s quite a backdrop for this week’s dual.

  • Both schools list either/or competitors at 141 none of the contestants are nationally rated
  • Luke Goettl faces Anthony Collica in a battle of unranked wrestlers at 157
  • Fourth-ranked Mike Moreno meets undefeated and No. 1-ranked Alex Dieringer at 165
  • 17 Lelund Weatherspoon wrestles No. 15 Nolan Boyd at 184

It’s a terrific bout on paper.

“I think it comes at the right time in terms of another step competition wise,” Jackson said. “It’s an important dual. They’ve had a stranglehold on the conference.”

A victory Sunday would surely loosen the OSU league stranglehold just a bit.

In tight game, bench (McKay, Nader) sparks win

McKay, Jameel_Kansas_2014-15_3

On any given night, it seems any number of Cyclones could be in a starring role.

Coach Fred Hoiberg began his post-game radio show last night by complimenting two members of his bench for their play. And, it was their defensive play he touted.

“I thought Jameel (McKay) getting on the floor, getting the ball and calling a timeout (was important),” Hoiberg said. “I felt (Abdel) Nader had the play of the game with his block. Plus, he was able to keep it in play.”

On a night when Hoiberg felt his team was just a touch “off” after Saturday’s huge victory vs. Kansas, Hoiberg got great boosts from McKay and Nader.

McKay had a team-best 15 points and Nader hit 5-7 shots on the way to 11 points.

Only twice previously (a 37-point win over Lamar and a 50-point win over Mississippi Valley State) have two Cyclones reached double figure points off the bench in the same game this season.

Against a formidable foe like Kansas State – which entered the game in first place in the Big 12 – that bench production was a welcome sight.

Beyond his point total, McKay also had game highs in rebounds (seven) and blocks (three). Nader chipped in with six boards.

Hoiberg has lots of options and his guys continue to prepare to be the guy called upon.

Tuesday night, it was Nader and McKay that answered the call and it came in a competitive game. That’s the exciting part.

ESPN notes entertainment value of Cyclones and the Big 12

GameDay20KU15

College basketball is an entertainment business and, Saturday, the sport was celebrated all day on Iowa State’s campus. That included an visit from ESPN’s GameDay show.

It was all Cyclones all day.

During one of ESPN’s segments, Coach Fred Hoiberg joined Rece Davis, Jay Williams, Jay Bilas and Seth Greenberg on the set.

Hoiberg was asked what rule change he would you like to see in the college game. Without hesitation, Hoiberg said a 25-second shot clock to speed up the action would be a great addition.

Scoring is down across college basketball landscape. It’s a bad trend, especially from an entertainment standpoint.

On Saturday, five games were played between ranked schools. Three of those match-ups were in the Big 12 and the average point total per team was 73.5. In the other two – Duke vs. Louisville and Utah vs. Arizona – the teams scored only 58.8 points per team.

The Kansas vs. Iowa State game included 167 points.

“One of the most entertaining teams I’ve seen was that (Cyclone) performance in Ames Saturday night,” Brent Musburger said on ESPN’s Big Monday game last night.

The other 15 games on Saturday which inlcuded at least one ranked team averaged just more than 128 points per game. That’s not as entertaining.

Hoiberg wants to win and he favors a fast tempo and scoring. He wants more possessions and fewer “fake” actions on offense.

ESPN brought GameDay to Ames because it was a match-up of ranked programs and they felt Iowa State was a program worth celebrating.

The show was great. The game was better. Everyone was entertained.

I’ll suggest GameDay returns to see Hoiberg’s crew again. They like the entertainment value.

Hype then hoops on Saturday, just like a year ago

Vitale_Michigan_2013-14_3

About 14 months ago, the Iowa State men’s basketball team hosted Michigan and popular TV analyst Dick Vitale was making his first visit to Hilton Coliseum. There was great buzz.

Same song Saturday night, different verse.

ESPN GameDay Covered by State Farm is coming to Ames for the first time.

That means the sport’s premiere “talking heads” show will originate from Hilton.

It’s free publicity. It’s the big stage.

The school is excited. The student body is primed. The players and coaches are eager.

Nine hours after Rece Davis and his partners – former Duke “Jays” (Williams and Bilas) and former college coach Seth Greenberg – have signed off, the Cyclones will host Kansas.

Hoiberg was asked if the fanfare for the show creates special challenges for the team’s preparations. The coach admitted it could, but quickly dismissed it as a distraction because of the maturity and mindset of his team.

Once the game tips off, ESPN GameDay will be a great memory and a perfect prelude to a matchup between two of the better teams in the nation’s toughest conference.

A year ago when Vitale visited, the pre-game hype was at a fever pitch. That happens when he works the crowd.

When the game against Michigan tipped off, the hype gave way to a great game and ISU responded with a win.

A repeat of that script would be welcome in Ames.

Cyclones in Top 25 nationally after fall campaign

The final fall standings for the 2015 Learfield Sports Director’s Cup have been released and Iowa State is tied for 24th (with Oklahoma State) nationally. The Cyclones and Cowboys are second-best among Big 12 schools, three spots behind Texas.

Baylor (44th), West Virginia (48th), TCU (71st), Kansas State (76th), Oklahoma (82nd), Texas Tech (95th) and Kansas (110th) round out the Big 12 roster.

ISU got 90 points from its women’s cross country team, which was the NCAA runner-up. Volleyball (50) and men’s cross country (27) also scored points.

Iowa State’s 167 points from the fall sports are tied for the second-most in school annals. In the 22-year history of the competition, ISU has ranked in the nation’s Top 25 after the fall season just four times (19th in 1996, 22nd in 2010 and 2012 and 24th this year).

Congratulations to head coaches Andrea Grove-McDonough (women’s cross country), Martin Smith (men’s cross country) and Christy Johnson-Lynch (volleyball) as well as their student-athletes for their Directors’ Cup contributions this fall.

Preparation for Baylor this time focuses on attacking its defense

Niang, Georges14BUBig12

When Baylor and Iowa State met on the football field this fall, Coach Paul Rhoads was concerned about simulating the Bears’ offensive attack in practice. Their pace of play, speed and width of formations are all unusual.

This week, the men’s basketball teams from those schools meet and Coach Fred Hoiberg is concerned about practicing in preparation for BU’s zone defense.

“They play a defense no one else plays,” Hoiberg said. “It can’t be simulated. The fortunate thing is that we played them three times last year.”

In three games a year ago between the schools, halftime adjustments seemed key.

After a close first half in Ames, the Cyclones had a +13-point margin in the second half. Following a close opening stanza in Waco, the Bears had a +12-point margin in the final 20 minutes. In the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones fell behind 18-1 to start the game and fought back to a five-point deficit by half. Iowa State won the final 20 minutes by 14 points.

The Cyclones like to get the ball in the middle to Georges Niang and working from there to get good looks, but that is a challenge vs. Baylor.

You don’t get a lot of open shots against their zone and they take away the middle,” Hoiberg said.  “We’ll need to get the ball to spots on the floor where we can take advantage.”

Twenty years in the making, that memory will never fade

Fennelly, Bill_2014-15_Hilton Madness

When a significant event occurs, it can be difficult to put it into perspective. Flowery descriptions get tossed around without much thought.

To label a performance just right usually takes someone who has some historical perspective. For two decades, Bill Fennelly has been the builder and caretaker of Cyclone women’s basketball.

So, Fennelly was asked if Saturday’s improbable 18-point comeback victory against third-ranked and undefeated Texas rated as a greatest memory.

“Memory, yes, absolutely,” Fennelly said without hesitation.

Then, he paused as the media room became silent.

“I don’t like to rank best players, best teams, best wins. But, best memories?” Fennelly wondered aloud.

You could hear a pin drop as everyone leaned forward to hear what was next.

“Yea,” Fennelly whispered. “Just because of the day… all my players… all my family…”

His voice trailed off.

“I’m really happy for the team,” Fennelly continued with his voice back to normal. “I’m really glad these players will get to stand out there at mid-court some day and tell people what it meant to beat the University of Texas.”

Fennelly was back to talking about others. His excitement was back and he had deflected the compliments to everyone but himself.

Saturday’s victory came in front of a reunion of former Fennelly players back in town to recognize his 20-year tenure at ISU. And, he noted the magic of the program was on full display with the former Cyclones on hand.

“The mood of our players changed when the former players came out at the under 16 timeout,” Fennelly admitted.

It is likely the mood of the players also changed because they were playing in a special game for their long-time coach. Those are memories that Fennelly will surely rate at the top of his list.

Cyclones pass an obvious and significant milepost

College GameDay Basketball Campaign - December 19, 2014

On the journey to building a great basketball program, there are many mileposts along the route.

Some are obvious and significant and others are more subtle.

Earlier this week, Iowa State announced that it would host ESPN’s GameDay covered by All State on Jan. 17. The college basketball world turns its attention each Saturday morning to the pre-game extravaganza featuring Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg. The show originates from the site of the network’s primetime night telecast.

The Cyclones have never previously hosted the event. This is an obvious and significant milepost.

In four-plus seasons as coach, Fred Hoiberg has been the catalyst for the return of Hilton Magic, a number of significant wins, tournament berths and championships.

Along the way, Hoiberg’s program has also passed these mileposts:

  • Ranked by the Associated Press (on March 8, 2012) for the first time in 2,300 days;
  • Rated in the A.P. Top Ten (on March 21, 2014) for the first time in 4,395 days;
  • Appeared on ESPN’s “Big Monday” telecast three times in 2013-14 (with three more times guaranteed this season).

Many programs on the rise eventually make the polls and play on national TV more frequently.

But, the very special ones get the chance to host ESPN’s GameDay and the Cyclones and their fans should relish the chance to participate.

Doors to Hilton Coliseum will open at 7 a.m. on Jan. 17. Admission is free.