Fifth? Ok, let’s get to work.

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Big 12 men’s basketball coaches Tubby Smith, Bruce Weber, Scott Drew, Bob Huggins, Trent Johnson, Bill Self, Travis Ford, Lon Kruger, Fred Hoiberg and Rick Barnes have combined to win 3,926 games as college coaches.

That’s a whole lot of hoops wisdom.

Those 10 men – through independent projections – picked Hoiberg’s 2014-15 Cyclones to finish fifth in the upcoming Big 12 standings.

The collective wisdom of those coaches and their assessment that ISU will barely make the first division of this winter’s league race underlines the challenge the challenge that Hoiberg faces in replacing Melvin Ejim (17.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and DeAndre Kane (17.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.9 apg).

For those choosing to question Hoiberg’s ability to rebuild on the fly, consider the senior departures he has dealt with in prior seasons:

  • 2011: Diante Garrett (17.3 ppg), Jake Anderson (12.8) and Jamie Vanderbeken (11.1)
  • 2012: Royce White (13.4 ppg), Scott Christopherson (12.6) and Chris Allen (12.2)
  • 2013: Will Clyburn (14.9), Tyrus McGee (13.1) and Korey Lucious (10.1)

Hoiberg rebuilt each time with returnees assuming bigger roles or transfer players getting their shots.

To some, the fifth-place guess seems to be cause for anger.

Rather than be upset, I’ll rely on the competitive nature and skill set of the players that ISU will have on its roster this season.

And, of course, the steady hand of Hoiberg directing the action.

Watch the play again and note #5

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Thousands of people have watched the replay of last Saturday’s goal line play at the end of the first half in Iowa State’s game at Oklahoma State.

What many folks seem to have missed was the sensational hit by Cyclone freshman safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. The 6-1, 194 pounder crashed from the outside to slow the Cowboys’ running back before Big 12 tackle leader Jevohn Miller finished the tackle.

“What a play by Jevohn Miller,” Joey Harrington, the TV analyst yelled in real time.

“As you watch here, Miller slides around (and) gets back in the play for a last-ditch effort to keep him out of the end zone,” Harrington said during replay. “Cotton-Moya with the initial stop.”

Miller has had a great season and leads the Big 12 in tackles. Cotton-Moya is only tied for 42nd in the league in stops. He is, however, No. 1 in league tackles among freshmen.

Cotton-Moya first burst on the scene a couple of weeks back. Kansas State had just scored a fourth-quarter TD and was lining up for a two-point conversion to tie the game.

The Wildcats’ Jake Waters kept the ball and tried to reach the goal line.

“He gets stuffed,” FOX play-by-play man Justin Kutcher hollered. “Kamari Cotton-Moya with a big play. Cotton-Moya meets him head on. How big was that play?”

It was big. And, those big plays are starting to add up for this emerging Cyclone rookie.

It’s time to start watching #5 when the chips are on the table. He has a knack for being around the ball in big situations.

Rhoads hoping tough slate toughened team

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Among the Power Five conferences, five football teams have faced opponents with cumulative winning percentages above 70%.

Two are from the ACC (Syracuse, .750 and Clemson, .703) and there is one each from the SEC (Tennessee, .708), the Pac-12 (Washington State, .710) and the Big 12 (Iowa State, .880). No school from the Big Ten has faced a schedule with a cumulative winning rate above 70%.

The Orange, Tigers, Volunteers, Cougars and Cyclones have combined to win 10 of 26 games against their formidable competition. That isn’t surprising.

For comparison, the teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 have a cumulative opponent winning percentage of 51%.

By season’s end, schedule strength will balance out for most schools. And, that just emphasizes you can’t make too many concrete judgments on teams at this juncture. There is too much football yet to be played.

Cyclone opponents have won 22 games this fall (tied with Washington State, whose foes have lost nine times), the most in the nation. The losses were to the top two rated teams – Florida State and Auburn– as well as Iowa State (which beat Iowa).

In Iowa State’s case, Coach Paul Rhoads believes the early season challenges have built resolve.

“We’re hoping that it’s toughened us up and thickened our skin,” Rhoads said. “I’m very hopeful that (for) the next seven games it is going to pay off.”

Rhoads believes his team has kept its focus so far.

“We have played good people and hung in there,” Rhoads said. “And, we have to continue that fight.”

After further reflection…

The indisputable statistical evidence suggests that Iowa State’s football team continues to takes positive strides even though it has not been rewarded on the won-loss ledger.

Three teams – Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State – currently sit atop the Big 12 standings with 2-0 records. The Cyclones have played all three to open their league season.

No excuses. You play who is on the schedule and do your best.

On a weekly basis, gains are being made. The indisputable statistical evidence …

  • is that Iowa State rushed for a season-best 137 yards Saturday. Not good enough, but an improvement. Three of Iowa State’s six longest runs of the season came vs. Okie State.
  • is that the Cyclones intercepted two passes in the opening half in Stillwater – and have picked off at least one throw in four straight games – and also recorded three sacks in the first half vs. the Cowboys, before the game’s tone shifted at halftime.
  • is that ISU won the turnover (for the second time in ’14) and time of possession (first time this fall) comparisons against Oklahoma State.

Granted, there is disappointment in the Cyclone football camp from both fans and the team. That is the hard reality.

But, after further review, progress is being made and there are good opportunities ahead as the mid-point of the season is Saturday.

Time to move forward.

In the market for “makers”

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Iowa State women’s basketball has made post-season play 17 times with Bill Fennelly as the coach. That remarkable run has been rooted in doing things the “Iowa State Way”.

On the court, the Iowa State Way includes shooting and making three pointers.

All but one (1997) of Fennelly’s tourney teams attempted at least 600 three-pointers for the season.

His five most accomplished teams (Elite Eights in 1999 and 2009 and Sweet 16s in 2000, 2001 and 2010) combined to make 38% from long range. His other 12 post-season squads connected on less than 35% from the three-point arc.

That’s the backdrop for what Fennelly shared at media day leading into his 20th season at ISU.

“We shoot a lot of 3’s,” Fennelly suggested. “We’ve got a lot of shooters on this this team. We need more makers. Our three-point percentage has got to go up. We made a lot of them (last year), but we shot a lot of them.”

The Cyclones have made 32.6% of their three-point shots in the last three years combined. That number has to climb according to the coach.

“We might have the least amount of experience and productivity in the post (than anyone),” Fennelly said. “(But), our guards should be pretty good.”

Fennelly welcomes back three guards with double figure scoring averages (Nikki Moody, Jadda Buckley and Seanna Johnson) from last year. He’s never had that luxury previously.

Good guard play for Fennelly normally translates to good distance shooting. His sparkling resume is built on that reputation.

Hoiberg looks to match remarkable team chemistry of a year ago

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Fred Hoiberg started his media day news conference talking about last year’s Cyclone team. His focus was on that club’s camaraderie.

The thing about that team … was how they came together,” Hoiberg said. “The chemistry that developed for that team was as good as any team I’ve played on and as good as all the teams I’ve coached.”

After those brief comments about last year, Hoiberg quickly shifted gears to the coming season.

He began by sharing early impressions of his new players:  Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader, Georgios Tsalmpouris and Clayton Custer.

Like he has in his four prior years, Hoiberg is adding a lot of new faces to the roster. Developing roles and instilling a selfless mindset is at the top of his to-do list.

“That’s what I’m looking for with this group,” Hoiberg said in reference to how the ‘13-14 team quickly integrated the new players with the returnees.

This year’s returnees – Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue, Monte Morris, Naz Long, Matt Thomas, Sherron Dorsey-Walker and Daniel Edozie – are talented and seasoned.

The coach likes his roster pieces – both the new and the old – and he’s anxious to start fitting them together.

Based on his track record, Hoiberg does some of his best work this time of the year as he builds that team camaraderie.

One “special” phase of the game has been exemplary for ISU

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Here’s a little secret about the 2014 Iowa State football team.

It is winning one phase of the game every week and doing so in a pretty dominating fashion.

Special teams. Kicking, covering kicks and returning kicks.

The Cyclones rank in the Top 15 nationally in four different measures:  punt returns (2nd), kickoff return defense (7th), punt return defense (10th) and net punting (12th).

Iowa State leads the Big 12 in four team statistical categories and they’re all on specialty units: punt returns, punting, field goal percentage (tied) and extra point percentage (tied).

In addition,

  • If Jarvis West had enough attempts to qualify (he has four), he would be No. 2 in the NCAA in punt return average (29.2), and he has an 82-yard TD to his credit.
  • Freshman punter Colin Downing and his unit’s coverage team has surrendered just eight punt return yards all season.
  • Cole Netten is perfect on both FGs and PATs and he made a game-winning 42-yard field goal with two seconds left at Iowa.

Winning two of the three phases in any football game is a good predictor for a victory.

If the Cyclones can continue the positive trend it has exhibited on special teams through four games, it should only take one more phase to push the Cyclones past the finish line.

Smoke & mirrors or leverage & angles: “got to fix it” Rhoads says

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Whether it’s smoke and mirrors or better leverage and angles doesn’t matter to Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads. He simply wants to see a more productive running game from his Cyclones.

“We are averaging just over 100 yards per game and our quarterback – not by design – is our top runner,” Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday. “We’ve got to fix it.”

Part of the problem has been the competition.

3rd. 13th. 16th. 6th.

Those are the national rankings of North Dakota State, Kansas State, Iowa and Baylor for rushing defense. Surprisingly, ISU gained more rushing yards than the Bison, Wildcats and Bears have given up on average. The only time that didn’t happen was vs. Iowa when the Cyclones were victorious.

More important than the opposition, however, is Iowa State’s ability to get better. That is what it can control

“We need to do a better job of blocking and that’s not just the interior five,” Rhoads said. “Our running backs need to do a better job running the football. And, you have to scheme things up sometimes when you don’t have the horses.”

ISU is 20-7 when it outgains the opponent on the ground during the Rhoads’ era. The mark is 7-32 when it is outrushed. The Cyclones are 27-26 when gaining at least 100 yards on the ground and 1-11 (the win was against Iowa this fall) when they don’t since Rhoads arrived.

“You’ve got to run the ball and defend the run if you’re going to be successful,” Rhoads said. “We all know we’re not running the ball well enough.”

Better opponent, better result; improvement continues

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The competition was better.

A year ago, 12th-ranked Baylor hosted Iowa State. Saturday night, the No. 7 Bears visited Ames.

“This Baylor team, in my opinion, is better than the one from a year ago,” Coach Paul Rhoads said.

The results were better.

ISU suffered a humbling loss last fall against the Bears. The Cyclones were competitive early when the schools played last weekend.

“One of our goals was to start positively and we did that,” Rhoads said. “Being at 14-7 at the end of the first quarter gave us a chance to compete.”

The gains from 2013 to 2014 means that Paul Rhoads’ team continued its improvement trend.

“To do some of the things we did against them (leads me to believe) we improved against them,” Rhoads said.

The Cyclone offense sputtered early Saturday, but it got on track.

ISU ran 13 more plays against Baylor than a year ago and averaged 1.7 yards more per play. Iowa State had a season-long 92-yard scoring drive. The team’s third-down conversion percentage was 10% higher and it nearly doubled its total offense (339-174) and did have twice as many first downs (18-9) as the prior time the schools met.

The Cyclone defense also made gains in many areas.

Baylor rushed for 47 yards fewer, passed for 66 yards fewer and averaged more than a yard-and-a-half less per offensive snap. ISU held the Bears to 22 fewer points than the match-up in Waco a year ago. The Cyclones also managed a sack and turnover, and they did neither last year.

In its first three games of ‘14, Baylor had jumped to leads of 35-0, 28-0 and 45-0. When the Bears opened with TDs on two first quarter two drives, you wondered if more of the same was coming. Much like its game vs. K-State several weeks back, however, Iowa State rallied.

That resiliency is important. Add in continued improvement in the coming weeks and the win-loss ledger could very well start to even out.

ISU offense vs. Baylor defense features two coaches with similar tales

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One of the interesting matchups when Baylor visits Iowa State this weekend will be a chess match between Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.

It’s an important match-up because it will likely influence time of possession, which is potentially Iowa State’s best friend.

The coaches’ backgrounds are eerily similar and their reputations as coordinators widely respected.

Mangino played collegiately at Youngstown State and later served two separate tenures on the Penguins’ coaching staff. Bennett was a defensive end at Texas A&M and eventually served two terms as an Aggie assistant.

Both Mangino and Bennett (1983-86 as defensive coordinator) have coached at Iowa State.

Each man spent time working for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, but not at the same time. Bennett was the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2001. Mangino worked with the K-State offensive line from 1991-98.

Both coached at Oklahoma, but during different eras. Mangino was line coach (1999) and offensive coordinator (2000-01) for the Sooners, while Bennett led their secondary in 1997.

Bennett was a head coach at SMU for six years and compiled a 19-51 record. Mangino led the Kansas program for eight seasons and built a 50-48 record.

As direct competitors, Mangino and Bennett have been on opposite sidelines three times previously:

• Oct. 19, 1996: K-State defeated Texas A&M, 23-20
• Oct. 14, 2000: Oklahoma defeated K-State, 41-31
• Sept. 29, 2001: Oklahoma defeated K-State, 38-37

The fourth match-up is Saturday night and the competition between their units (ISU offense vs. Baylor defense) will be one of the key storylines.