The Good and Bad of Saturday Night

Iowa State improved to 6-0 with its 83-77 victory over Drake on Saturday night. The Cyclones had not emerged victorious from the Knapp Center in eight years, so this was no small feat. Even the 32-5 team that featured Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley couldn't get the job done in Des Moines.

So, with Xavier waiting in the wings for a game in Ames on Tuesday night, let's take a look at some of the good—and not so good—things that were evident in the ISU victory…

GOOD: The rebounding margin enjoyed by the Cyclones was outstanding. This is a very key area for ISU this season and—even with limited minutes from Jackson Vroman and Jared Homan—the Cyclones held a dominating 49 to 30 advantage on the boards. Obviously, we can't expect Iowa State to be a +19 on the glass night in and night out, but the effort, positioning, aggressiveness and intensity HAS to be there every minute of every game.

You don't have to have great height to be an effective rebounder and Iowa State had some players "play big" against Drake. Marcus Jefferson (8 rebounds in 19 minutes) and Curtis Stinson (6 rebounds) are two that immediately come to mind.

BAD: Foul trouble for Vroman and Homan. I'm always trying to evaluate how a given night's performance would stack up against a top-ranked team. Maybe that's being too critical, I don't know. But, one of the early-season statistics that makes me pretty nervous regarding ISU is that neither Vroman nor Homan is averaging 24 minutes of playing time per game. That HAS to change for the Cyclones to compete for a spot in the "Big Dance." I just don't think ISU can beat a Top 30 team with its top two post players sitting for almost half the game.

Both of these guys played well—when they played—at Drake. Vroman had 12 points and 9 rebounds in only 19 minutes. Homan finished with 12 points and 10 boards in 20 minutes. But, both of ISU's big men had FOUR fouls in that limited amount of time, as well. Sure, maybe some of the calls were "suspect," but do you really believe the officiating will be much different on the road in the Big 12?

Iowa State needs these guys on the floor…I'm thinking around 28 to 32 minutes per game. Especially against the top-notch competition the Cyclones will face in the conference.

GOOD: I think it's great that ISU saw a box-and-one defense against Jake Sullivan. The Cyclones could very well see more of those types of defenses as the conference season gets underway. Opposing coaches KNOW that Sullivan is a great shooter. They also KNOW that Homan and Vroman will attack the offensive glass. After that, there are still plenty of uncertainties against Big 12 competition. What ISU will need to do to take advantage of this type of defense is PROVE that someone else can attack such a defense with either penetration or three-point shooting.

Obviously, Will Blalock brought his "A" game to the table in Des Moines. And that bodes well for ISU. We've been waiting for the freshman point guard to get a little more aggressive with his shot…and Saturday, he showed what he is capable of. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that he seems to be a "pass first, shoot second" type of player, but with his abilities to shoot and score, I think Blalock can put more pressure on a defense. He proved that to the Bulldogs, that's for sure.

Additional penetration and three-point shooting abilities could be added with Tim Barnes, as well. You can never have ENOUGH of these skills on the court. Nothing breaks a defense down quite like penetration into the paint and nothing takes the teeth out of a sagging defense quite like three-point shooting.

BAD: Turnovers…WAAAAAAY too many turnovers. If Iowa State commits 27 turnovers again in any game this year, chalk it up as a loss. I love the way that Stinson has played just as much as the next guy…but 10 turnovers? Against the mighty pressure of…ahem…Drake? And Vroman with seven turnovers (and zero assists) in 19 minutes? Obviously, these things can't happen again.

GOOD: ISU got off to a great start—an early 23-6 lead—in its first road game. This is a good sign that the team was focused and ready to play…and that Blalock was comfortable away from Hilton Coliseum.

BAD: The Cyclones let the Bulldogs back up off the floor after having them down by 17 points. Although this type of comeback is not all that unique in college basketball—where the three-point line is a great equalizer—let's hope ISU can put the next team away when it has that kind of lead.

GOOD: Blalock took control in the final minutes of the game. The freshman guard scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the last four minutes, while the game was being decided. That's a sign of great confidence, poise and leadership from a young player. As I've said before, college basketball is a guard-oriented game…and the more you see Iowa State's guards, the better you feel about this team.

BAD: I'm afraid that—against Big 12 competition—this game would have been a loss. A 6-0 start is terrific and I'm as optimistic as ever about this season. However, the level of competition is going to get a whole lot better now…and things like 27 turnovers, giving up a 17-point lead, and getting 39 total minutes from Vroman and Homan will cost Iowa State games against teams like Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. That's the reality.

GOOD: Winning a game on the road that was up for grabs in the final five minutes will make it easier—and generate more confidence—to do it again. While it would have been nice to beat Drake by 25 points on Saturday, the fact that the Cyclones had to battle back and execute at both ends of the floor in the final five minutes to secure the road victory will only help them—especially the young guards—as the season moves along. You simply can't put a value on how much a team learns every time it wins a close game…and it's even more important to achieve this on the road.

Plus, I think the fact that Blalock played so well offensively will give ISU another dimension in its half-court offense that opponents will have to deal with. As a result, Sullivan may get a few more good looks at the basket each night…and Vroman may face fewer double-teams. This will definitely help the Cyclones' half-court offense run more smoothly.

Xavier on deck…

The game with Xavier should be a fun one to watch on Tuesday. Hopefully, Hilton is rocking with enthusiasm. The Musketeers are 5-3 right now and here are a couple of scores of interest…

November 29: Indiana 80, Xavier 77 in overtime at Indiana. Bracey Wright scored 27 points to lead the Hoosiers. Indiana finished with a 45 to 33 rebounding advantage. Romain Sato, a 6-5 senior guard, led the Musketeers with 19 points. Will Caudle, a 6-9 sophomore, had 18 points and 6 rebounds. Xavier only committed 11 turnovers.

December 13: Mississippi State 82, Xavier 70 at Mississippi State. Shane Power had 6 points and 3 rebounds for Mississippi State. Xavier was led by guard Lionel Chalmers, who scored 24 points. Sophomore guard Dedrick Finn added 20 for the Musketeers, who made 10 three-pointers.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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