Examining ISU's Road Woes

Why is Iowa State struggling so badly on the road again this season? What is causing this 20-game losing streak at opposing Big 12 arenas?

Obviously, the Cyclones haven't played well at Colorado, Baylor or Oklahoma this season. Iowa State doesn't even LOOK like the same team away from Hilton Coliseum right now…and I'm not talking about the uniforms.

On the road, the freshmen look much more like freshmen, Jake Sullivan looks like an average shooter, Jackson Vroman and Jared Homan seem to disappear at times…and the team appears to lack "energy" (one of Phil Jackson's favorite terms).

While looking at some statistical differences for ISU at home and on the road in the Big 12 this season, I found two pretty glaring items…

Iowa State leads the Big 12 in free throws attempted in home games this season (107), free throws made per game at home (19) and free throws attempted per game at home (27).Iowa State is LAST in the Big 12 in free throws made per game on the road (8).

Hmmm. Those are pretty telling numbers, my friends. That means that Iowa State scores 138% more points at the free-throw line in Ames than on the road. Maybe those 11 points per game wouldn't have made much difference at Oklahoma, but they sure would've made a difference at Baylor. And ONE road victory at this point would put Iowa State in much better shape of making the NCAA Tournament.

So, here are the "chicken-and-egg" questions:

Does Iowa State play that much more aggressively at home than on the road? Or is the officiating in the Big 12 full of "homer" calls? Is that same "home cooking" a big factor when it comes to "Hilton Magic?" And is that a new record for quote marks in a single paragraph?

I wanted to get some answers, so here's what I did. I researched EVERY box score from the 43 games played in the Big 12 so far this season. When I did this same exercise in the Big 10 last year (through 59 games), I found a league that was chock full of lopsided box scores…the home teams were shooting 32% more free throws than the visitors. I fully expected to find similar numbers in the Big 12 at this point.

But, I didn't. In fact, the home teams in the Big 12 are averaging 22 free throw attempts per game, compared to 18 attempts per game for the road teams. That's only a 22% boost for the host schools, which I'll bet isn't unusual at all in college basketball in ANY conference.

Another interesting home vs. road stat that I found was Iowa State's free-throw percentage in Big 12 games this season. Consider these numbers…

Four home games: 75-107 (70%).
Three road games: 25-52 (48%).

There isn't anything the officials can do about that. And as much as I get tired of hearing the phrase "mental toughness" get over-used, this is definitely a case where it is applicable. This is an incredible disparity, in my opinion. It's a 31% drop in accuracy while taking the exact same shot…the only differences are the crowd noise and a little more pressure. To shoot 48% at the line in one game is nothing short of embarrassing. To shoot 48% at the line in a three-game span on the road is positively ridiculous.

Again, it can easily be argued that it cost Iowa State a victory at Baylor, where the Cyclones were 10 for 18 (56%) at the charity stripe. Those numbers look even worse when you consider that Sullivan was 7 for 7, meaning the rest of the team went 3 for 11 (27%). Ouch.

Here are some of the chief free-throw culprits in Big 12 action so far…

Will Blalock. Home: 12 of 15 (80%). Road: 2 of 5 (40%).
Curtis Stinson. Home: 11 of 16 (69%). Road: 1 of 7 (14%).
Jackson Vroman. Home: 6 of 11 (55%). Road: 3 of 7 (43%).
Damion Staple. Home: 7 of 10 (70%). Road: 4 of 9 (44%).
Jared Homan. Home: 22 of 35 (63%). Road: 1 of 8 (13%).

Take the totals for those five players and the numbers are pretty telling. Home: 58 of 87 (67%). Road: 11 of 36 (31%). In fact, Vroman hasn't shot a single free throw in the last two road games for Iowa State…over the course of 61 minutes! Talk about a pretty poor indicator for the Cyclones.

Those same five players listed above are averaging 22 free throw attempts per Big 12 home game, but only 12 per game on the road.

Clearly, Iowa State needs to become more aggressive on the road and look to get the ball into the paint more frequently with either post feeds or penetration. There HAS to be a way for this team to get to the foul line more often away from Hilton. And obviously, a little more focus will boost the percentages up into a more respectable level.

I stand by my guarantee earlier this week that Iowa State will make the "Big Dance" in mid-March. But, I'm thinking it might take at least ONE Big 12 road victory to get the job done. While I picked the Cyclones to win at Kansas State, they will certainly need to get to the free-throw line more frequently—and knock down a reasonable percentage—in order to accomplish that.

Somehow, this team needs to find a way to take its attitude, energy and aggressiveness that it brings to the court in Ames and establish that same approach—as a TEAM—when it goes on the road. That usually starts with getting the ball into the lane.

But, it must also be finished at the free throw line.

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

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