Men's Basketball Insider #1

Cyclone Nation debuts its weekly Basketball Insider pieces with Gary Thompson as our expert for the 2002-03 season. In the first edition, Thompson addressed Iowa State's recent offensive struggles and looks ahead to Saturday's anticipated battle with Big 12 power Oklahoma.

Gary Thompson is the long-time color analyst for the Cyclone Television Network. The 'Roland Rocket' was ISU's first 1,000-point scorer and was selected as an All-American following the 1957 season. He concluded his three-year career with 1,253 points, which ranks 16th on the Cyclones' all-time scoring list. He has also served as a commentator on NBC, ABC, ESPN and Big Eight basketball telecasts.

CN: Talk about a killer January schedule Iowa State has embarked on. Looking back at how it played in games against top-25 powers Texas and Kansas, with Larry Eustachy's team only playing about 15 minutes of good basketball out of 60, how important is a solid effort against Oklahoma for a boost in confidence?

Thompson: Having played Kansas and Texas, it's certainly got to help us against Oklahoma. Oklahoma just had a 40 minute battle with Oklahoma State and those teams just hustled 100 percent the entire game. Having played Kansas already, they really put defensive pressure on us, which Oklahoma can do as well. Both of those games (against Kansas and Texas) are going to help us.

In the Kansas game we were out of it. It was the first game that we had played in the league, we were on national television and it was our first Big 12 game. Frankly, I think our guys just froze in that game. Leading up to the Texas game, we worked on pressure defense and handled it a little bit better. Offensively we just haven't been able to get it done the last couple games.

CN: What would you attribute the offensive struggles to?

Thompson: Playing against pressure defense, we didn't help ourselves by going to meet the basketball, moving on offense and maybe making some back cuts away from the ball. When you're having trouble getting the ball in position for good shots, once you get the shot there is a tendency to rush it. Now you're trying to hurry it because you've had that pressure coming at you the whole time.

That's one of the reasons why we've struggled offensively. I thought we were prepared to face pressure as well as we could, but we just didn't get the shots down. The pressure and learning to cut away from the ball and setting yourself up, you've got to move hard and have good timing. Timing has been one of the big things. Players have to learn that timing aspect. When the ball-handler comes to their side, you have to know when to kick off of your man and get yourself open.

CN: JUCO transfer point guard Tim Barnes is getting some initiation to Big 12 basketball. After facing a Kansas backcourt consisting of Aaron Miles and Kirk Hinrich in his first league game, he went up against T.J. Ford of Texas last weekend and now gets set to square off with Oklahoma's tandem of Quannas White and Hollis Price. How is Barnes adapting to the change?

Thompson: It's a learning process for Tim Barnes, no doubt about it. In a lot of the games he played in junior college, he's been the quickest guy out there and can take it by people, penetrate and beat them. He's found out in this league there are some great guards and some quickness, so you can't always get that done. I think he's got to get a little more penetration with the basketball, not doing as much between the legs and that type of thing, but just making good hard cuts with the basketball and beating somebody.

I also think he has to move the ball ahead to the wings a little bit more on the break, instead of bringing it down, fighting it all himself and coming into the middle. By the time you do that and dribble back and forth trying to beat somebody, the rest of the defense catches up. Sometimes if he can get the ball ahead to the wings, even if that guy can't get the shot, you're able to make plays off of that. That forces the defense to catch up, help one another and rotate up.

CN: Coach Eustachy addressed a question on Monday's teleconference on his team's lack of free-throw attempts compared to past seasons. He somewhat attributed that to not having the scoring punch inside that recent teams had, and those players' ability to draw fouls. Do you think the post players on this team need to become more aggressive inside to start getting to the charity stripe?

Thompson: You draw fouls by going to the basket. In a couple of these games, particularly in the Kansas game, we were playing east-west and not north-south. We're not getting the ball and going to the basket. The way you get fouled is taking it to the hoop.

We settled a little bit, with our big guys inside, on jumpers. We haven't taken it hard to the hole as we need to, and maybe take it up with two hands strong. Some of that is we haven't gotten the ball inside at times, because of the pressure. We definitely need to get more offense out of our inside.

CN: While we're on that subject, let's discuss some of the individual players inside. Is it a matter of Jackson Vroman going through the funk JUCO players go through? Is it Jared Homan, a sophomore, still not wanting to step up and be more of a factor offensively?

Thompson: With Jared Homan it's a case of a big guy playing against a quicker big guy, which makes it difficult for you to beat them to the basket and get those shots. He has gotten cut off and maybe had to spin and shoot the jumper.

Vroman is getting used to playing against bigger, stronger and guys that are as quick as he is. They cut him off from getting to the basket as much as he was early. Now he's getting players that are putting a body on him and blocking him off the board, which isn't helping him. In the preseason against lesser quality teams he was able to get to the boards. And he's got to learn to keep himself in the ballgame. In the Texas game he only played 13 minutes.

CN: When I heard scouting reports of Vroman as a junior college player, it sounded as if his outside game complemented his play in the paint. Why aren't we seeing that so far?

Thompson: I didn't see him play and I don't know how much of an outside shooter he was. At this point he hasn't shot the ball that well. I think he's a shooter inside the 3-point line. He's a 15- to 17-foot shooter. That's the maximum range where he's going to be effective. And he hasn't gotten those kinds of shots down consistently, and his tendency is to want to take it to the basket all the time.

CN: What are you seeing out of Chris Alexander at this point of the season that you didn't in August or September during individual workouts?

Thompson: What I saw in the Texas game was a guy that's starting to come around as a basketball player, in the sense that he just kind of stood around in the first games. Maybe he is not tuned in yet of what he's all supposed to do on offense. On defense, of course, you can just go get it.

But against Texas he started moving to the ball and wasn't standing around waiting for things to come to him. He rebounded going after the ball several times. He didn't shoot the ball that well down there. I think he's a little uncertain when to take the shot and getting the ball in the position he likes it. But he definitely has the ability to score and go over the top of you. It's a matter of getting confidence for him in there and getting him the ball in positions where he likes it.

CN: I alluded to the schedule earlier. With so many games against the Big 12's upper echelon this month, is it important ISU gets a win in one of these games sooner than later to avoid a snowball effect during the conference season's early stages?

Thompson: I looked at the schedule prior to playing these games. I knew there was no way that Larry could have this team in position and ready to compete against these teams this early, because of the newness of the players and getting them ready. Out of the first four games, personally, I was hoping we could win one of them and anything we got over that would be gravy.

You can look at it two ways. In one aspect, you wished that you could play these top teams later when you're better prepared, have played more games and have more experience and confidence. On the other hand, these are the top teams in the country. Maybe it would be tough beating them at that point. By playing these tough teams on the front end, this might help us prepare ourselves a lot more for beating the teams who we match up a lot better with.

CN: Finally, let's get your read on this Saturday's matchup against Oklahoma. Who are some players on Oklahoma's team that Coach Eustachy has his team focused on the most?

Thompson: Oklahoma is well balanced. They've got the two guards in Price and White. Ebi Ere is a terrific player and can score. I like the toughness of (Kevin) Bookout, the 6-8 freshman from Stroud, Oklahoma. He's strong, keeps a lot of balls alive, gets some balls off the board and puts them back in. He gives them a player that really complements the cast he's got around him. Jabahri Brown, the 6-10 center, also gives them a lot.

They're loaded and that's why they're ranked where they are. The thing I like is how hard they played on the road against Oklahoma State. They had trouble scoring and sometimes guys were having trouble getting good looks at the basket. The same thing happened with them—they put up some shots quick, which meant you're not shooting the ball as well.

CN: What are some keys to an Iowa State victory?

Thompson: We've got to handle the defensive pressure. That's going to be the big thing against a club like this. That's going to fall on either Barnes or Jake (Sullivan) handling the basketball and getting the offense started. We're going to have to move and that means moving without the basketball to get yourself open. It's also stopping dribble penetration by Oklahoma.

We have to shoot the ball well and get some offense inside. Our big people have got to get us some offense. I also think we're going to need eight to 10 points out of (Adam) Haluska.

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