CN: After getting untracked during the Nebraska game last weekend, Iowa State's guards went back to their previous ways on the road against Oklahoma State. It looked eerily similar to their effort at Missouri. Start by giving us a post-mortem of ISU's most recent contest in Stillwater, and discussing the struggling backcourt.
Thompson: The Cyclones played one of the top teams in the country and we played through that first half. We're doing a pretty good job defensively in all of these games and were in it against Oklahoma State despite making 12 turnovers in the first half. We were only four down at half. You think the team's in pretty shape if you just come out and play.
Our guard play in this game—you have to have guards to win in this league. Our guard play let us down again. We came off a nice game against Nebraska with our guards, but then they struggled against Oklahoma State. The guards can't let shooting affect their floor play.
If Tim Barnes is struggling with his shot and its consistency, he can't let it affect his floor play. He's got to still handle the ball and keep from turning it over. We had 23 turnovers, which is the highest we've had all year. That converted into something like 27 points off of turnovers.
Our big guys on the inside are doing the job. Our defense and help defense was great. A lot of the things they're teaching we saw happen. If somebody beats one of our players, our center was rotating over. The instance I'm thinking of – Barnes rotated down from the weak side and intercepted a pass as they tried to hit the open guy. So those things are coming along. We're just lacking some confidence at a few positions, which is hurting us.
CN: It seems like quite a while ago that Larry Eustachy's team pulled out a close one over in Iowa City. What will it take for this team to pull out one of these on the road against Big 12 competition?
Thompson: You've got to be solid the whole game. When it came down to game time, we couldn't produce it. We gave up steals on our turnovers and that really took the game apart. We got the ball stolen from us a couple times and they broke the game open. We really lost our poise in there a few times. Guys would get frustrated against the defense. We had a five-second call on a play that could have been a foul call.
When you're on the road, you have to have experience. That's one thing we're lacking with this team right now – experience of playing on the road in a tough conference.
I'm a big believer that when you're on the road and the crowd gets going hard against you and the momentum is switched, you have to slow down your play and take your time. You have to get solid, The tendency is to speed up and try to get back in the game real quick. Now you try to do things you're not capable of doing. That gets you in trouble and leads to more missed shots and turnovers. This is when you develop your confidence on the road, being able to play solid basketball and not beat yourself."
CN: Jake Sullivan again struggled in a hostile road environment. Was he doing the same things against Oklahoma State that plagued him against Missouri, or are there different reasons for his latest lackluster effort?
Thompson: As far as his offensive game, Jake is doing a better job of coming to the ball, hiding behind screens and coming to it. He had one of the toughest defenders in the conference covering him in Sanders. He has shut down a lot of guys, particularly in Stillwater. He shut down Baylor's Kenny Taylor down there, so it's a tough go.
But one thing you cannot do, when you're having a tough go, is to force things. It just goes from bad to worse. You're better off trying to make some plays and make a play for somebody else. If you can't get it yourself, there's no sense in forcing things up.
CN: It's obvious that the Cyclones haven't been able to recover recently on the road when both Sullivan and Barnes have been off. Is there another player you think needs to step up to the plate when this happens?
Thompson: From my personal viewpoint, I don't think you can look at this team and point out one guy you can turn to. There really isn't one particular player that can put the team on his back and carry them. We don't have anyone who can do that, so we have to rely on a five-man game and playing together as a team.
Jake had a tough time getting shots, but Barnes had a lot of open shots without pressure. He's just not hitting them. If he hits those shots and we cut our turnovers down, we're still in pretty good shape.
A lot of people have been worried about scoring on the inside, but our bigs have really played well and produced over the last four or five games. They're not the types of guys that can carry a team on their back, because they don't go out on the floor and shoot the ball. They basically post up inside and get the ball. (Jackson) Vroman did a great job in the game with sealing his man off, and we got back in the game by getting it inside. But we had so much pressure on the guards and didn't have the ability to break down the pressure inside to get it to the post men that many more times.
CN: Can something be done technically or personnel-wise to get this offense jump-started in the near future?
Thompson: Your offense is limited by turnovers of the basketball and the number of shots you lose because of it. We're shooting 47 percent as a team, which is a good percentage. But we're not getting enough shots up on the glass to win because of our turnover problems. But we are going against some top defenders and top teams. They get after you, and now you have to be selective in those shots and have a little more patience. It gets back to executing, and following and making picks and screens to get people open. It takes all five guys doing the right thing. If one messes up on a particular play, it lets down the whole offensive system.
CN: The good news is relief's on the way for Eustachy's squad, which finished the month of January with a 1-5 mark. The schedule lightens up a little during February, and ISU can get back into postseason consideration with a solid run. Do we finally start learning some things when the Cyclones face off against some more manageable competition ?
Thompson: We're going to find out in the Baylor-Iowa State game, because these are two teams that probably had the toughest schedule coming in. They're 0-and-5 and we're 1-and-5. Baylor has played the tough teams starting out. I think they had Texas Tech and we had Kansas, and that's the difference. We're going to see if having played these tough teams is going to help us, and this is a start for both teams playing one another.
I don't look at the Cyclones as a team that can just roll out with any of the other teams in the league and say you're going to be a favorite over them. You're going to have to play hard, but I think we're capable of beating a lot of those teams. Realistically, it will be very difficult to go to Kansas and win. But against anybody else we've got a chance to win.
We talked about what playing the top teams early will do for improving this team. I definitely think the team has been improving. In conference play, there is only one team that scored over 70 points against us. So the defense has been good enough to win a lot of games. It's the combination of our offense and handling of the basketball with turnovers that has put us in deep trouble.
CN: You alluded to the Baylor contest tomorrow night as a crucial one, but when will we get a real gauge on how far this team has come since opening Big 12 play? I'm thinking in terms of ISU winning a conference road game.
Thompson: We're going to go to Colorado and they're a talented team. That's our next game after Baylor and we get a week's rest to prepare for them. Colorado has always been a funny place to play for a lot of people and we've had some funny games out there struggling to play. We've gotten beat by last-second shots. That will test us a little bit. But we can go out and win on the road against these teams. We'll also have Texas A&M, Nebraska and Kansas State down the stretch. We've got a chance to win any of those games.
CN: Despite losing five of six games to start league play, the Cyclones remain in contention for some sort of postseason tournament bid with an 11-6 overall record. Is that a selling point for the players and coaches getting the ship righted as soon as possible?
Thompson: Certainly Larry and the coaching staff isn't going to have a team thinking ahead about going to the NCAA Tournament or NIT. They're going to be playing each game one by one. Naturally, players think about wanting to continue playing after the regular season. You want to have a chance at the NCAA or NIT. That's still a possibility for this team. If we could finish 7-3 out of this last run of 10 games, that's going to put you in a tournament of some kind.
CN: Some fans have questioned how much better this team could be with a Ricky Morgan coming off the bench, at least providing some depth outside. However, with the addition of Barnes from the JUCO ranks and Sullivan being a year wiser, this season's backcourt was still expected to be much improved from a year ago. Why has it seemed to take a dip recently from even the level of 2001-02?
Thompson: This team looked to be like we had a position solved with Tim Barnes, and he was one of the top two or three junior-college guards in the country last year. We have reiterated this a number of times, but who you play against determines a lot. It's a matter for him getting comfortable. His ability is there. Coach Eustachy has stayed with him trying to build his confidence and show him he's got confidence in him. He has got to find that game where he really develops the confidence in himself. Sometimes that takes a little longer than you want.
We don't really have any depth at the guard position, other than the players that are playing off the bench. You've got to switch people. Adam Haluska goes out there and Jake goes out there when Barnes is struggling a bit, but they're not true point guards. There is no doubt we're short at that position. But you can't go back and talk about what you don't have or wished you had. You've got to stick with the players that are playing and building their confidence.
CN: Let's wrap this up with a brief scouting report of tomorrow night's opponent, Baylor.
Thompson: Baylor is going to come in here thinking this is there chance to win a game on the road against a 1-5 team in Iowa State. They had a great trio of freshmen last year – Lawrence Roberts, John Lucas and Kenny Taylor. They were three of the outstanding freshmen in the league.
Roberts was the highest-scoring freshman in Big 12 history and I think he had the most rebounds of any Big 12 freshman. He's a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward. He's going to be a good one. Lucas is a great shooter and will also penetrate. The first thing Lucas looks to do is score himself. His second thing is to be a playmaker after that. But he still leads the team with 76 assists. Taylor wants to shoot the ball on the 3-point line or outside, and he's not going to penetrate near as much and take the ball off the bounce.
Baylor has a couple of guards that we're going to have to get out and defend. This is a team that shoots 45 percent of their shots from the 3-point line. They put them up, so we're going to have to extend our defense and go out and get them. They like to penetrate and kick to the 3-point line. That's how they get a lot of their shots.
The other thing I notice about Baylor is they rebound the ball offensively very well. Two or three guys hit the offensive boards. We gave up 19 offensive rebounds against Missouri, so we're going to have to hit the boards tomorrow.
We're going to have to adjust to defenses. I've known Dave Bliss since he started his coaching career at Oklahoma, and he'll usually give you some different looks. He'll go man-for-man, zone, trap you or half-court trap you. You've got to be able to just to their defenses.