Inconsistent Cyclones seek spark
Iowa State drops out of AP Top 25 for first time in 61 weeks
AMES — Iowa State’s offense has been very solid for stretches this season, and its defense has improved since last year.
The problem is that the Cyclones can’t get both clicking at the same time and that inconsistency helped knock them out of the AP Top 25.
Iowa State (6-3) was left out of Monday’s rankings, snapping a run of 61-straight weeks in the poll, after dropping three of its last four. The Cyclones are coming off one of their ugliest games in years, falling to Iowa 78-64 on the road last week.
Iowa State will face in-state rival Drake (1-8) on Saturday as part of a doubleheader in Des Moines.
“This team will be fine. I mean, I know we’re living off the Iowa game,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm. “This team has to play a certain way all the time, and we didn’t do that in stretches in the Iowa game.”
Prohm’s way includes strong ball movement.
For a team with a backcourt led by preseason All-American point guard Monte Morris, the Cyclones have too often failed to make the extra pass that leads to a better shot.
A poor assist-to-basket ratio has symbolized Iowa State’s lack of ball movement in its last two losses. The Cyclones had just five assists in an overtime loss to No. 25 Cincinnati on Dec. 1 and just nine against the Hawkeyes, who entered play with a losing record.
Prohm said the key to fixing Iowa State’s offense is for it to pick up the pace and cut down on what he called “freelancing.”
“First and foremost, we’ve got to start playing in transition. We’ve got to get some easy baskets by playing in transition and pushing the tempo,” Prohm said. “When we run our offense and we execute, we get good shots.”
The Cyclones have also struggled because Naz Mitrou-Long just isn’t shooting very well.
Mitrou-Long, who missed most of last season because of lingering issues with his surgically-repaired hips, is shooting just 39 percent from the floor and just 26.7 percent on 3s — two years after ranking second in the Big 12 in 3s per game. Morris said he’s confident that Mitrou-Long will eventually shoot his way out of his recent funk.
“It’s not about how you start. It’s how you finish,” Mitrou-Long said. “I’ve put in too much work. These guys put in too much work. We’ve beaten ourselves. Me and Monte talk about it every day. If it has to be us against the world, I like our chances.”
For a program whose expectations have soared in recent seasons, three losses out of four can feel like an epidemic.
But things aren’t as bad as they might seem for the Cyclones.
Iowa State rallied from 20 down and was within a Monte Morris 3 at the buzzer from beating No. 8 Gonzaga on Nov. 27. If Mitrou-Long’s 3 at the regulation buzzer gone down against Cincinnati, the Cyclones would have won that game as well.
Iowa State’s defense has also been better than its offense, and teams that defend well typically have a chance on the road once league play comes around.
But for the Cyclones to get back on track, they’ll need the loss at Iowa to be their tipping point.
“It’s a bright future and a bright road down the line. It’s tough right now and it might be hard to see for (the media). But there is definitely going to be a change, and it’s definitely going to get back to normal around here,” Morris said.