Men's Basketball Insider #4

Cyclone Nation's weekly Basketball Insider continues with Gary Thompson analyzing the positives of Iowa State's week off from action. Thompson says Larry Eustachy's team is facing a pivotal stretch of four games, starting with Saturday's contest in Boulder, Colorado.

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: Without a mid-week game, Iowa State had a chance to rest up and get focused on a weekend trip to Boulder to face a red-hot Buffalo team. In what ways do you think that will benefit Larry Eustachy's squad?

Thompson: Having the time to prepare for Colorado was important. The club needed some rest and they've had the flu bug bothering them. Tim Barnes has been sick this week. (Chris) Alexander was sick prior to the Baylor game and some after that. Having almost a full week off should be helpful.

They'll need everything they've got to go to Colorado with. They're playing real well. As we all know, they just bumped off Texas out there and have some real good athletes. Having the time to get this team together with a week to prepare will be good.

CN: What did you see out of this team last Saturday night to make you think they're on the verge of turning the corner?

Thompson: We've talked in the past about the struggles our guards have had with handling the basketball and of course with shooting at Oklahoma State. Barnes particularly has had trouble shooting it. What a difference when you go from Oklahoma State and the guards are 3-for-21 to ending up 14-for-21 against Baylor. They didn't turn the ball over as much after committing 13 turnovers at Oklahoma State. So you can see the difference that it makes when you get the guard play out there.

What's important for this team, having played some great teams so far and been close, was against Baylor we led practically the whole way and lost the lead. I was sitting there interested to see what was going to happen the rest of the way and whether this team could come back and win. It was very important that they did, and should be a confidence builder.

We had some good efforts. Homan came back into the game after sitting out with foul trouble and did some good things in a short period of time. The way we won the Baylor game should help us.

CN: Is Jackson Vroman starting to turn the corner and ‘get it' as Coach Eustachy would say?

Thompson: They've worked on him with his energy and going fast. On the defensive end, they don't try to slow him down. What they try to do is slow him down a little bit on offense when he catches and moves. He wants to move so fast that he plays beyond his capabilities sometimes. They try to slow him down, so he can gather himself and get his feet under him when he goes up. He's been working hard on his defensive game, too.

CN: Other than getting a few players healthy going into Saturday, what were some areas that the staff worked on during practice this week as ISU prepares for a difficult three-game stretch?

Thompson: They're looking at a team in Colorado that's very athletic. We've got to get back to keeping people off the glass. This is a club that will hit the offensive boards hard, so you've got to keep them off the glass. They'll penetrate with the ball and kick. It's not as much like Baylor, but they'll look for the threes. Morandais is a 6-foot-5 athletic wing player that's playing lights out. He's led them in scoring seven of the last nine games. He can penetrate, shoots the three and pushes the ball in transition himself. He's a key for them.

Colorado has size with David Harrison at 7-foot and Pelle at 6-foot-8. That's where their rebounding comes. It's going to be a force for Iowa State.

They've got another kid in Wilson who doesn't like to put it on the floor, but is their best 3-point shooter. He has a quick release and deep range. One of our problems a lot during the whole year has been guarding the 3-point shooters. We did a good job against Baylor in the first half, but then let down and they caught up with the 3-point shot.

CN: The Cyclones have been involved in some pretty strange games in Boulder during recent years. Could we expect another one on Saturday?

Thompson: I don't know what it is with Colorado. I don't think coaches or players say anything about altitude. But the kids are aware of it. I don't know if they psyche themselves out sometimes when they go to Colorado to play. I don't know if they think it's the altitude when they get tired. But it's not just with Iowa State, it's all teams. There are a lot of funny things that happen to teams in Colorado. It's one you have to be ready for. We've had our problems from time to time of going there.

CN: Were you happy to see Bobby Knight get his 800th victory early this week instead of possibly getting it next Wednesday in Ames?

Thompson: I'm glad that he got it against somebody and we don't have to be a history marker for Bob Knight. I've known him for a number of years. I sent him a note to congratulate him on the 800 wins.

He did me a great favor several years ago. I was working for NBC doing the NCAA Tournament. It was the year they won the Final Four in 1981 with Isaiah Thomas. They were playing Maryland with Albert King and Buck Williams. It was a great team, but they just demolished them. The game was so lopsided that there weren't any timeouts or fouls going on.

We got to the end of the game and have a 20- to 25-minute fill. I asked the S.I.D. if he could get Bobby to come up and help me out. He wasn't sure if he would come up. I said, ‘You tell him that I'm up here and have a struggle and a long time to fill.' Well he came up and took about half of that time, so I was really indebted to him."

CN: ISU faces a pivotal run of games starting with Saturday's matchup in Boulder. Characterize just how pivotal the next few games are for its postseason standing?

Thompson: We're right in the stretch now of playing teams that are in the middle of the pack in the league on down. If we're going to do some good and start thinking about going to an NCAA Tournament, these are the types of games we've got to come away with some wins. If we could get three of the next four games and take it from there, we'd be in good shape. These next four games are critical to see what this team can do.

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