Men's Basketball Insider #2

Cyclone Nation's weekly Basketball Insider continues with Gary Thompson analyzing the problems facing ISU's hoops squad. Thompson addressed Iowa State's collapse down the stretch Tuesday against Missouri and looks ahead to Saturday's home meeting with Nebraska.

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: You were on the sidelines as the color analyst for last night's television broadcast, so let's start off with a post-mortem of last night's effort against Missouri.

Thompson: It was a game that Iowa State gave away. There was a game there to be had. Defensively, they played and certainly well enough to win. I look up there with a couple minutes to go and Missouri's got 57 points. I'd like every Iowa State team to look up at the board, see Missouri has that many points and think they're in pretty good shape.

We just self destructed with individual play and turnovers. We had way too many turnovers and the kind that are unforced where we didn't execute. Then we got hurt on the defensive boards where we gave up 19 offensive rebounds. Those are the two key factors that really hurt us. But this was a game to be had.

It was the one game of the top four we've played so far that I thought, before we played any of them, we had the best chance to win.

CN: What can be done about some of the backcourt's struggles and turnovers we saw last night?

Thompson: We've got a few situations. Larry Eustachy tried one thing to help (Tim) Barnes by taking him out of the lineup and bringing him off the bench. I thought that might relax and help him a little bit. But poor Timmy's got talent, but just cannot get it into the game. There's an old analogy that my old baseball coach at Iowa State used to say: ‘You have paralysis from analysis.' Tim is thinking too much and needs to go out and play.

It's gotten to the point where Tim Barnes couldn't even react to situations with his quickness, like going for loose balls. I saw things out of him last night where I think he's just tied up mentally thinking about things. Should I get back or naturally get the ball? At one time he had a great opportunity to beat the Missouri guy to the ball, but just stood and waited.

Sometimes Jake maybe thinks, because he's a junior and the closest thing to a guy with the most experience, he has to take the game on himself. He tried to take the ball into traffic. From my viewpoint, he is not a guy that can take you off the dribble. He's not a one-on-one player. He's got to get it with screens.

Not that he hasn't been able to get to the basket a few times, but basically all he did was take it into trouble and turned it over. He's turning the basketball over way too many times. He's got something like 20 turnovers in the last four games.

CN: Iowa State's non-conference schedule wasn't as stellar as some fans would like, but Barnes did have a few contests against Boston College and Iowa where these kinks probably could have been worked out. Why do you think we're seeing this out of Barnes in the middle of January?

Thompson: He's gone from a non-conference schedule with the teams we're playing not nearly as strong to playing against some great teams with solid backcourts. We've seen top-notch guard courts out of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma with kids that are being touted for All-American and All-Conference. That's partly to do with it.

But what's disappointing to me—I don't think Missouri puts near that kind of pressure on. Missouri's the type of team that lets you play with them. It's a great opportunity to steal a win, but that didn't happen.

CN: What did you think of Coach Eustachy's decision to bench Sullivan with a few minutes left with the game still somewhat in the balance?

Thompson: When we were in the game, that's the point when Jake kind of took it on himself. If you want to be brutally frank, honest and not soften anything, Jake took us out of the game in that stretch with turnovers. That really hurt us and broke things down. As a coach, Larry sees Jake step up to the line and miss a free throw. Here's your 90 percent free-throw shooter, it's gametime and he doesn't hit it. Everything's going wrong for Jake at that time. I think it was a case of, ‘You've had your chances, haven't gotten it done, and we've got to find somebody else who can go in and do it.'

CN: What in particular led to an unordinary amount of turnovers from Sullivan last night?

Thompson: In my opinion, Jake is not the greatest passer and I think that's bearing out where he commits the turnovers. He takes it into traffic, coughs it up and gets it knocked away. That's what is so frustrating for the coaches is the unforced turnovers. I can think of one where he got doubled up last night and they trapped him. You can turn it over out of there.

But with so many of them, he comes down, looks at a guy and I think he should bounce pass it at a particular time. But then he throws it straight where all the arms and loses possession. From that standpoint, he's trying to do too much in crucial times instead of letting it come within the flow of the offense and getting it from that situation.

CN: In lieu of Sullivan's recent struggles, do you think more of the offense needs to be run through Adam Haluska?

Thompson: Haluska came out and brought into his game something that I'd been hoping he'll add and keep doing. That's taking the ball to the basket. Anybody with that kind of speed and acceleration should try to do that. He beat (Rickey) Paulding, who is a great athlete, took him off the dribble and took it to the hole. I like that part of his game. He's kind of been content to stay on the perimeter.

But for some reason or another we kind of got away from him in the offense. He didn't see the ball and kind of went dead after he had so many points in the first 10 or 11 minutes.

The thing I like about Haluska is that he's not afraid to come out and take shots. Nothing bothers him offensively. He's not worrying about his shot and has all the confidence in the world in his offensive ability. The best part is his defensive ability is getting better and better each week. He's really focusing on that and making an effort to improve.

CN: When Iowa State's schedule was released a while ago and you looked at these first four games in the Big 12, did see the possibly opening 0-4?

Thompson: Actually, I did. The coaching staff had a very difficult job starting out, with three primary starters on this team that are new players that have never been with the other kids. I certainly thought it was a possibility we could go 0-for-4. But I was still hoping we could go 1-and-3, then if we could get more than one I would have called it a bonus.

Missouri was the one I thought we had the best opportunity to win. We weren't really in the Kansas or Texas games. We were closer in the Oklahoma game and then kind of fell out. But Missouri was the best chance that we've had by far. To win it on the road would have been great.

CN: A big theme of last season's team was its struggles down the stretch in close games, which prevented it from finishing with a much better overall record. After watching last night's late collapse, are you concerned about this becoming an epidemic as it was last season?

Thompson: The theme of last year was that we did not have a point guard. When you get down to gametime you've got to have a guard that can handle things, get you into the offense or create it like Tinsley did. Frankly, we thought that was corrected early in the year. But right now our guard play has really let us down.

Our bigs overall, except for the defensive glass, have played pretty good. (Jared) Homan played excellent last night. He missed one put back, but he hustled, boarded, checked off pretty well and blocked some shots.

But when you've got 13 turnovers out of your guards, you're really struggling. And then Tim cannot hit a shot. You've got problems. I'm concerned about the latter part of games, unless we can pick up our guard play and ability to handle the basketball when it's clutch time.

CN: Let's go back to the defensive rebounding last night. Was it the Cyclones' lack of execution with the ball in the air, or was Missouri just too quick and physical inside? That area hasn't really been an area of concern thus far.

Thompson: It was a physical game. Several factors enter into offensive rebounding. One, when you get beat and the big guy goes to help, it leaves the back man free to come in on the boards and get it. Two, it was so physical and they're so strong that we kept getting pushed inside and didn't keep them out. We let them come over our backs. We weren't getting guys blocked out and let guys in there. I also think we got ourselves to deep on the boards, instead of getting the body on a guy and holding position. We were rebounding straight up, instead of rebounding going to the ball. We were caught too deep underneath the basket. The only thing we were going to get is what comes through the basket.

We also had some bad breaks where we blocked some shots or deflected a pass and the ball went right back to them for second opportunities.

CN: Chris Alexander continues to provide some solid minutes, doesn't he?

Thompson: He's got the good little touch inside. When he goes to the middle, can turn to his left shoulder and shoot that little hook he's only about five or six feet away from the basket. He's becoming more of a force all the time. He isn't really the shot blocker you'd think of a 7-foot-1 guy, but I thought he did a pretty good job on (Arthur) Johnson and made him make some tough shots over him. For a guy that's had as limited amount of practice time as he's had, he's really made a lot of progress in a short time.

CN: Is it tough for this team to go from playing four consecutive ranked teams to hosting Nebraska Saturday afternoon? Could a letdown be expected?

Thompson: When you're 0-and-4, you shouldn't have a letdown about any opponent coming in. I don't think the coaches would stress this as a must-win or big game. But from my way of thinking, this is an important game for Iowa State to get. It gets you on track and is a game we have an opportunity to win at home.

You can look at this another way, too. When a team comes on the road, they're thinking they have a great chance to beat on the road. Here's an Iowa State team that's been struggling a little bit and we've got a great chance to beat them on the road. If we go over and execute, we've got a chance. From their standpoint, they're coming in with a team that's really ready to play. Maybe we're facing a team that's playing over and above their heads than if they were going down to play Kansas.

If we play up to our capabilities, we win the game at home and get some confidence going to Oklahoma State. They've probably been playing about as well as anybody in the league right now.

CN: Finally, what are some keys to a Cyclone victory over the Huskers?

Thompson: If we put the same effort on the floor that we put at Missouri defensively, we'll be in good shape. We've got to eliminate those turnovers. We have to be able to get over the hump if a game's in a tight spot and make plays. We need to value the basketball a tremendous amount.

This is when we've got to go back to that fundamental, hard-nosed basketball. It's easy to play if you're a front runner out ahead. When you get behind a little bit, that's when you have to be tough. We've also got to do a great job of rebounding and keeping them off the boards.

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