Rebounding the cure for road woes

It's 22 road losses in a row now for Iowa State, and outside of begging a local shaman to perform a Druid cleansing ritual, we're all running out of answers to the streak which shall not be named. However, our columnist thinks he might know what the Cyclones need to do to end the 1,094-day misery.

 

For Iowa State to finish the season with a .500 mark in the Big 12, the Cyclones HAVE to win a conference road game.

After 22 consecutive Big 12 road losses, nobody is counting any chickens at this point. Or shooting any Easter eggs, for that matter, either.

I enjoyed reading the Q & A this week with Steve Deace and Coach Wayne Morgan…and I think Coach Morgan has done a tremendous job this season keeping the team together and headed in the right direction after the position the program was in last summer. But, it wasn't hard to sense Morgan's frustration with Deace's questions about ISU's road losing streak in the Big 12.

Coach Morgan mentioned that guys like Curtis Stinson and Damion Staple had little to do with this terrible dry spell. And I think you can assume correctly that he also meant, "Don't lay all this at MY feet…this is my FIRST year as the head coach." And I think these thoughts have merit.

However…

If Coach Morgan is as frustrated as he seemed with this topic—and he truly wants this line of questioning to stop—then the solution is simple: WIN a Big 12 road game. Don't blame the media for raising this point with every road loss…or worry about who was (or wasn't) directly involved with how many of these losses…simply figure out a way to win a Big 12 road game.

Then this music that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard will stop. It's that simple.

(Note to Coach Morgan: Just as you're tired of being asked about it and your players are tired of hearing about it…your fans are tired of SEEING it.)

Iowa State has three Big 12 road games remaining this season:

I think most people would agree with me that the most "winnable" of those three contests is the one in Huskerland.

But, there is NO WAY that the Cyclones will end this streak this season unless they make some improvements in their rebounding. It is one thing to get out-rebounded by 12 in Hilton Coliseum… it is another thing entirely to get out-rebounded by that amount on the road.

Missouri out-rebounded Iowa State 43 to 27 on Wednesday night. While the Tigers were grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound, they were able to build a 12-point halftime lead. In fact, if the Cyclones had taken care of the defensive glass in that first half, I believe ISU could have just as easily had an edge on the scoreboard after the first 20 minutes.

Rebounding was a very big key.

The Cyclones have not out-rebounded a single Big 12 road opponent yet this season, either. They stayed even with Oklahoma at 36-36, but in the other four games, Iowa State has been out-boarded by an average of 9.25 rebounds per game.

For example, in the four-point loss at Baylor, the Cyclones were out-rebounded 42-33. Think that might have made a difference?

While this Iowa State team has guys who will attack the glass and aggressively hustle after each ball that comes off the rim, a strong rebounding TEAM needs much more than hustle and desire. Rebounding is largely a game about positioning. You don't have to be 6-10 to be a great rebounder. But, you do have to be a master of positioning.

Take a look at the careers of guys like Kantrail Horton, Jeff Grayer or Kenny Pratt. None of these guys was very tall, but they all rebounded like they were six to eight inches taller. And THAT is something that the current Cyclones need to learn how to do.

How do you "teach" rebounding to someone? It takes a dedicated approach from the entire coaching staff—whether it's in a 3-on-1 fastbreak drill or a half-court offense vs. defense situation—BOXING OUT must be emphasized ALL the time in EVERY drill.

I watched Tim Floyd teach the fundamentals of boxing out during his tenure at Iowa State. I saw first-hand how he reacted when someone didn't find an opponent to make contact with when the shot was up. He was not a happy man.

And Larry Eustachy did many of the same things that Floyd did. Drill after drill. Day after day. These things were emphasized in everything that Iowa State would do…

    1. Find a body and make contact with your lower body.
    2. By moving your feet—and maintaining that contact--until the ball comes off the rim, you must "hold" your box out.
    3. When the ball comes off the rim, go and attack it with two hands.

It sounds simple, right? Trust me, it will take a lot of focus and effort from the coaches and players alike to make improvements in this area as the season comes to a close.

But, it MUST be improved.

Of course, the Cyclones are playing a lot more zone this season than they've played in the past. And a lot of people will tell you how much more difficult it is to rebound well out of a zone because there isn't ONE guy you are responsible for boxing out. I will agree with that to a small degree, but the fact is that the five players in the zone are EACH responsible for an area on the floor and if an opponent is in that area, they must be taken back and boxed out.

In a man-to-man defense, you often end up "away from" your assigned man because you're giving help to stop penetration or you're rotating to a shooter, etc. These things happen. But, the great rebounding teams find a way to rotate and box somebody out…while the mediocre teams use excuses about why they couldn't .

The good news is that rebounding skills can be taught. And Coach Morgan will need to teach these skills well in order to get this team into the NCAA Tournament.

Either that or he'll continue getting questions about the road losing streak.

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


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