Bounce back factor caught Hoiberg’s attention

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Another win over a nationally ranked opponent. That’s seven of them.

Another eardrum-splitting atmosphere in Hilton Coliseum. More magic.

The largest comeback victory in school history. It tied a 1998 game vs. Western Illinois.

A 58-point second half. That’s six 50-point halves this year.

And, a 22-0 scoring streak to turn the tables.

When Coach Fred Hoiberg was asked to describe how he felt during the amazing comeback, he deadpanned “well, I don’t know, fun?”

Fun, it was. Important, too.

“It was a great mental half and we needed it in a bad way,” Hoiberg said of outscoring Oklahoma 59-33 in the final 20 minutes. “We were, obviously, a team that was struggling and reeling a little bit after two losses.”

The Cyclones’ best week of the season (winning at Oklahoma State and Texas) was followed by its only two-game losing streak. Hoiberg wondered how his team would respond for a Big Monday match-up with the Sooners.

“You get one day to prepare and you wonder how your guys are going to respond. We didn’t respond great, obviously, but they sure turned it around. Hopefully, this is what we need to get our confidence back to the point where we can get some momentum going into the tournament.”

Three top ten wins is major ratings boost

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As March Madness quickly approaches, it’s pretty hard to avoid conversations about RPI, good wins, bad losses and strength of schedule.

The stat-heavy RPI rewards teams for playing strong opponents. Sometimes, a loss to a great foe pays more dividends than a win over an inferior opponent.

But, when you beat a great team then tourney prospects and RPI numbers really brighten. That’s the case for the Iowa State women’s basketball team.

A five-point Senior Day triumph over third-ranked Baylor came at just the right time for Bill Fennelly’s team.

“It doesn’t hurt (our tourney prospects),” Fennelly said after his team’s third win over a Top Ten school this season.

Iowa State is in the company of UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Tennessee as women’s programs with at least three victories over Top 10 schools.

The Huskies beat Notre Dame, Duke and South Carolina; the Gamecocks beat Duke, Kentucky and Tennessee; the Irish beat Tennessee, Duke and Louisville; and the Lady Vols beat Stanford, Oregon State, Texas A&M and Kentucky (twice).

UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Tennessee are among the small number of schools with realistic shots at No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Fennelly just wants to take his team to the dance for the ninth year in a row.

“Certainly it (the Baylor win) was a game – for the NCAA Committee – that gives us something to brag about,” Fennelly said.

Floor spacing is one thing; shot making is the other ingredient

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When analysts talk about Iowa State’s offense, it’s typical to hear something about its floor spacing.

Coach Fred Hoiberg talks about it a lot. The players do, too.

During a recent ISU game (at Texas), former head coach and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla referenced Iowa State’s offensive spacing but he added a caveat.

“You can’t have good spacing if you don’t have guys who can make shots,” Fraschilla said.

Spreading the court is one thing, but the impact is minimal unless a team uses the space to get good shots and score baskets.

Iowa State makes baskets and it’s a team-wide ability.

Six Cyclones – Georges Niang, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Naz Long, Dustin Hogue, Jameel McKay and Monte Morris – have attempted at least 100 shots this season and made at least 45%.

The other nine Big 12 schools combined have 23 players who have converted at least 45% of their shots with a minimum of 100 tries. Sixteen of those 23 are power players, who have attempted fewer than 40 three pointers.

Of the Cyclones’ six sharpshooters, Niang (89), Dejean-Jones (70), Long (156), Morris (64) and Hogue (48) have all tried at least 40 shots from long range. Their percentages were not built on a majority of dunks, lay-ups and other two pointers.

ISU is frequently saluted for its floor spacing. It’s time they are also noted for their shot-making abilities.

The two elements go hand-in-hand as Coach Fraschilla expertly said earlier this week.

[QUESTION: Who, you ask, are the seven Big 12 players not on ISU’s roster with shooting percentages above 45 and at least 40 three-point attempts? ANSWER: Baylor’s Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale, Kansas’ Frank Mason and Brannen Greene, Texas’ Myles Turner and Demarcus Holland and WVU’s Jonathan Holton.]

Balance is a common element among some of the nation’s best

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There is one college men’s basketball program in the nation with six players scoring in double figures. Iowa State.

Four others – Davidson, UCLA, UT-Martin and Georgia – have five twin digit scorers, but only the Cyclones have six.

Georges Niang (14.6 ppg), Bryce Dejean-Jones (12.4), Naz Long (11.2), Monte Morris (10.9), Dustin Hogue (10.8) and Jameel McKay (10.4) are all averaging at least 10 points per game.

The scoring differential between those players is 4.2 points. The only school in the nation with similar balance – and even a bit more – is undefeated Kentucky. The Wildcats’ top seven scorers are also separated by 3.5 points.

Minutes as well as points are divided up. Six Cyclones are averaging at least 24 minutes per game and only Morris is above 30. Eight Wildcats average 20 minutes of playing time with Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein at roughly 25 each.

Villanova has six players averaging nine points per game or better and Arizona has a half dozen scoring more than 8½ per contest.

ISU is in good company as UK, ‘Nova and UA are a combined 76-5 this season.

This point distribution really isn’t anything new at Iowa State. Two of Coach Fred Hoiberg’s prior teams had five double-digit scorers.

That kind of balance doesn’t just happen. It’s a core element of Hoiberg’s program and it wins a lot of games.

Two road wins in the same week is significant and unusual

There was a time when some college basketball leagues used travel partners to aid in scheduling and the routine was that partners would play a couple of home games one week and a couple of road games the next week.

Playing twice away from home in the same week wasn’t all that unusual. Those days are gone.

Only six times this winter has a Big 12 school played a pair of road games in the same week. Only one time did the travelling school win both times.

Iowa State’s road triumphs at Oklahoma State and Texas last week were an eye opener.

Earlier this season in Big 12 play, Oklahoma was swept at KU and BU in January; Oklahoma State was swept at KU and OU in January; Kansas State was swept at TCU and BU in February; and Texas Tech was swept at OU and WVU in January. The Cowboys did split road games at Baylor and TCU in the same week in February.

In a league where the home teams have won 65% of their games, the Cyclones were impressive last week in Stillwater and Austin.

“Iowa State had probably the best week that anybody has had all year in our league going to Stillwater and winning and going to Texas and winning,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said of the Cyclones.

The Cyclone road sweep came after much discussion about the club’s challenges on the road in conference play.

Last week was a great springboard. Now, the challenge is to keep it going Wednesday vs. Baylor. The Bears are coming off a 27-point win.

Guards – Johnson & Dejean-Jones – impacting Cyclone board numbers

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Rebounding is as fundamental to winning basketball games as about anything.

Good rebounding teams – just like those which don’t turn it over – get more opportunities to score. And, more shots normally means more wins.

Neither of Iowa State’s basketball teams is particularly big, but they’ve been competitive on the boards.

Bill Fennelly’s team starts a 6-foot-5 freshman center surrounded by a legion of guards most games.

Jameel McKay recently joined Fred Hoiberg’s starting lineup as its center, but his 215-pound frame is one of the league’s leanest among front-line players.

How then, do the Cyclone men and women hold their own on the glass?

For the women, Seanna Johnson leads the entire Big 12 in rebounding at 9.3 per game. The 5-10 sophomore is a guard per the Cyclone roster.

On the men’s team, it’s not surprising to see McKay (6.4 rebounds per game), Georges Niang (5.4) and Dustin Hogue (4.8) with solid rebounding number. But, it’s a guard – 6-6 senior Bryce Dejean-Jones and his 5.6-rebound average – who is often the difference maker. Dejean-Jones is 15th in league rebounding and the only guard among the Top 15.

When you think about the playing styles and roster make-up of both the men’s and women’s teams at ISU, rebounding isn’t what comes to mind.

But, in reality, both squads do compete quite well on the glass – thanks to some good rebounding guards – and it’s one of reasons for their success.

Retire the storyline; ISU gets second road win over ranked foe

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You can retire the storyline that the 2014-15 Iowa State basketball team doesn’t win on the road.

A hard-fought, five-point victory at 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State Wednesday was the latest Cyclone win in an enemy gym.

As ISU has built a 14-0 record at home this season, a narrative about the team’s road woes was getting more play.

After last night’s win, Iowa State has played seven road games and won three of them. More importantly, five of those road encounters came vs. nationally ranked teams and one – a 15-point win at Iowa – came vs. a school that has spent time in the polls.

A surprising loss at Texas Tech in January became a symbol for the Cyclones’ road woes. Funny that fifth-ranked Wisconsin’s loss at Rutgers hasn’t had the same impact on the Badgers’ road reputation.

However you slice and dice it, the win at Okie State was the Cyclones’ second road win against a nationally ranked team this winter. Among current Top 25 teams, only Virginia and Duke (three each) have more road wins vs. rated opponents.

The Cyclones join Villanova, Kansas, Butler and Oklahoma State with two road victories against schools in the Top 25. Three teams currently ranked ahead of the Cyclones in the A.P. poll – Wisconsin, Arizona and UNI – haven’t even played a road game vs. a rated opponent let alone defeat one.

It’s time to give some credit to Fred Hoiberg’s club. For some perspective, Iowa State’s all-time mark vs. nationally rated schools on the road is 11-120. Two of the wins have come in league play this year.

The win at OSU last night was big on many fronts. One of the benefits, hopefully, is the retirement of a storyline that has been somewhat exaggerated.

@ESPNLunardi numbers clearly spell out Big 12 is best in class

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ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and his group of stat heads compile daily Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) numbers.

As of Wednesday morning, 60% of the Big 12 membership is rated in the Top 30 per Lunardi’s RPI.

Kansas (1), Baylor (12), Iowa State (14), Oklahoma (16), West Virignia (25) and Oklahoma State (27) all reside in the top 30. Only two teams are below No. 100 in Lunardi’s rankings.

Some people feel the ACC – top heavy with Virginia (3), Duke (5), North Carolina (11) and Louisville (15) – is due consideration for top billing as a league. The Big 12’s top four are similarly rated. The differentiator is that one-third of the ACC has RPI marks below 100.

There are three times as many top 30 schools as those below 100 in the Big 12. The Big East is the only other league that has more top 30 (four) than below No. 100 (three) programs.

By conference, here are the average RPIs (per Lunardi) as of today:

  • Big 12 (10 schools with six in top 30 and two below 100) – 51
  • Big East (10 schools with four in top 30 and three below 100) – 62
  • Big Ten (14 schools with three in top 30 and three below 100) – 66
  • ACC (15 schools with five in top 30 and five below 100) – 72
  • Pac-12 (12 schools with two in top 30 and three below 100) – 79
  • SEC (14 schools with two in top 30 and four below 100) – 79

Iowa State’s next three games come against schools rated 27th, 32nd and 12th. There are certainly plentiful opportunities for good wins as tourney resumes are being written.

@jppalmCBS column applies to football playoff, too

Jerry Palm studies the merits of college basketball teams for NCAA Tournament consideration. At this time of the year, his thoughts get lots of attention.

Palm, whose title on CBSsports.com is Bracketology / Bowls Expert, wrote a column this week that claimed conference standings play no part in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Committee’s selection process.

The subject of Palm’s column was Purdue, his alma mater. The Boilermakers are tied for second in the Big Ten after winning six of seven games.

“Conference records are so irrelevant that they don’t even appear on the NCAA team sheets the selection committee uses,” Palm wrote. “Conference standings are irrelevant.”

To digress, the College Football Playoff should adopt the same mentality. The CFP lists conference championship (in other words, conference standing) as a criteria. That is a mistake.

Just imagine if, last season, Missouri had beaten Alabama in the SEC Championship game or if Georgia Tech had defeated Florida State in the ACC finals or if Arizona had defeated Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. It’s hard to imagine the Tigers or Yellow Jackets or Wildcats would have made the four-team football playoff.

Think about an undefeated regular-season team losing its league title game on a last-second field goal. Do you believe that one-loss team is overlooked for the playoff? Doubtful.

In other words, conference champion (or standings) should not matter as Palm wrote this week. The football playoff should drop conference champion as one of its stated criteria.

Since Palm studies basketball as well as football post-season play, I hope he repeats this column with an eye on the College Football Playoff sometime in the future.

ISU makes good use of prep and gets the chance to do it again

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There can’t be a more satisfying result for a coach than when his/her team’s preparation leads to performance. Fred Hoiberg seemed to be quite please Saturday after his Cyclones defeated No. 21 West Virginia by 20 points.

They used their four days of preparation very effectively.

“The thing I liked best,” Hoiberg said on the radio post-game show, “is that we took what we worked on all week and applied it today, and did it for 40 minutes.”

Hoiberg then listed a string of stats – rebounding, points in the paint, points off turnovers – which West Virginia normally dominates. ISU had a slight advantage in each category.

“Our approach all week was very good,” Hoiberg said.

Iowa State now hits the road for two games this week, playing at Oklahoma State (Wednesday) and at Texas (Saturday).

“I’m looking forward to this week (and having the chance) to erase some bad feelings that we’ve had playing on the road.”

The Cyclones’ last two road losses were after one-day preparations for Big Monday games at Kansas and at Oklahoma. ISU will have three days to practice for the Cowboys and two days to get ready for Texas.

If they can effectively use those extra days of work like they did against the Mountaineers, they’ll have a shot to pick up a win away from Hilton this week.

And, in the congested Big 12 race, there is no better tonic than a road win.