Men's Basketball Insider #5

Cyclone Nation's weekly Basketball Insider continues with Gary Thompson giving his take on what went drastically wrong for Larry Eustachy's team Wednesday night. Which way will Iowa State go now that its postseason hopes continue dwindling? Thompson knows one thing -- the Cyclones won't quit.

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: Let's start by addressing the post-game comments made by veteran leader Jake Sullivan after last night's frustrating home loss to Texas Tech. What's your take on his thoughts?

Thompson: You can't ever speak for a person and anticipate what they're thinking when they make comments. As it looks to me, it's probably a little bit of frustration for him right now with this team losing. There is probably some attitude adjustment that needs to be made by some individuals. That's what he's saying.

But as a guy making that statement, he's got to make sure he's living up to everything as well when you're involved in a team sport. That's important. It's a combination of those things, that maybe within the team guys aren't just giving the all-out effort he feels like they should be.

CN: Personally, are you in agreement with the points Sullivan made?

Thompson: I would say that Jake's statement probably has some merit to it. We're not getting the full attention to what the coaches want in the game and playing within the team concept of the game and their effort. I think he's trying to charge these guys to get this team ready to make a strong finish.

CN: On the other hand, could Sullivan's calling out of his teammates have an adverse effect? Could some teammates take exception to that and challenge him, or will this only be a positive for the team?

Thompson: When you're a team leader, teammates rally around you. There's an old saying that the truth hurts. If what he's saying bites you as an individual, then you know you're in the wrong. You need to pick up your game, effort and practice habits. But again I say, the team leader of any team, no matter who it is or what team you're associated with, that guy who speaks has to be the one laying it out on the line 100 percent all the time. That person always has the respect of his teammates.

CN: Iowa State has played decent team defense at times, but that has progressively gotten worse in losses to Colorado and Texas Tech. Shouldn't this be an area that gradually improves throughout the course of a season?

Thompson: You can alibi if you want for them, and I somewhat did in our telecast last night. I thought the game in the first half was too fast for us. Forty six points running up and down the court might have been too much, because we're a short-handed team right now. (Chris) Alexander was not there, which takes another big man away from us. For us to go at that pace and maintain that is tough.

Neither team played good defense, particularly in the first half. I think Jake Sullivan got the best-looking shots he's had in a long time. He got to catch the ball, shoot and release. But on the other hand, they were getting great shots. (Will) Chavous got several of them off screens.

It's the type of defense, as a former player and shooter, like to have. The defense was coming at you, you released the ball and the defense gets there. It's just enough pressure on you to shoot the ball, but it doesn't bother you. It's tougher to shoot a wide-open shot than it is with a little pressure coming late.

One of our problems with defense, is that some teams we just don't match up. Our athleticism and quickness was exploited last night. (Andre) Emmett and (Kasib) Powell were able to take it to the baseline. But then you teach team defense. If you do get beat, well then the backside defense and team defense has got to come into play and help. We're not getting that. It's a matter of concentration. This game is like football, it's repetition and repetition. You need to be able to react to things and play.

CN: You mentioned the fast pace game in the first half being a factor in Iowa State's late demise. Did its hot shooting early lead to the porous defense being played?

Thompson: As an offensive player, sometimes when you come down and put shots in you think, ‘Oh that's great' and you relax. You forget about getting back on defense. This club usually gets back and protects the hole well. Last night, the Red Raiders came back on us and scored on us in a manner that Kansas does on a lot of teams. We didn't get back.

Even a couple times when they just didn't push it hard and came semi-fast down in transition, we still didn't find our man in the half-court defense. They were getting some wide-open shots. Sometimes you run with your head turned and don't see the ball getting back.

CN: Coach Eustachy seemed to get in Adam Haluska's face numerous times last night. Was the criticism warranted?

Thompson: Haluska was kind of void in the game. He was lost. You didn't see him. He made the one 3-point shot, but he didn't seem to be into the game himself. We need him. He's been struggling now shooting the basketball. I had him making only 11 of his last 40 shots going into last night's game, then he was 1-for-4 and only has one rebound against Texas Tech.

CN: We saw a defensive strategy very uncharacteristic of Eustachy-coached teams at ISU, as the coach opted for a zone defense last night. How much did that factor into the team's smorgasbord of breakdowns?

Thompson: Larry has to adjust. He's got a problem adjusting right now. He goes to a zone and there have been a lot of people playing zone against Texas Tech, because they haven't shot the ball. Well they hit the shots against us last night. They got good looks at the basket and hit the shot.

In some cases, strategy-wise, he's trying to play a zone. Sometimes he's doing that to protect on fouls, because we're not deep with big people now. It's a problem. Then you've got some matchup issues, and maybe that's the reason for a zone. There's no doubt Powell and Emmett were mismatches for us with the guys on them.

We all know Bobby Knight's a man-for-man guy and so is Larry Eustachy. He's had to use the zone for protection in some ways. Naturally, when you're not spending as much time on a particular phase of the game, you're not going to be as proficient.

CN: I can't imagine a trip to Kansas Sunday is just what the Cyclones' doctor ordered, especially after their 15-point setback to Texas Tech.

Thompson: There are two ways to look at it. It's never a picnic to go to Kansas at anytime. But coming after a tough loss, the one thing about it is you can go to Kansas without any pressure at all. It isn't like going to Kansas really needing this game to stay in the race. There should be no pressure on this team, other than just coming out and giving the best effort you can and bringing your best game. A win would be very difficult, but probably the best circumstance is going to Kansas right now. On the other hand, maybe Kansas has the tendency to overlook us right now.

CN: But when you watch this game on Sunday, how can you really tell if Eustachy's team took a step in the right direction if it loses by double digits on the road?

Thompson: You go back to just executing and looking at the film, because that really breaks you down. You can look at the game and think you played pretty well in person, but you need to go back to the film.

One of the things Larry Eustachy has always been proud of is never losing a team at any time. I don't think he will, because he won't let a team die. He'll keep pushing to get the best out of them and bring them back. If that isn't good enough to beat a team, then so be it. You're still trying to improve. He'll be selling to this team to keep working hard and improve.

CN: Some fans seem to lose a little perspective after the Cyclones' recent run of bad luck in the Big 12, which comes on the heels of their feats of two and three seasons ago. Are some of their complaints on the past two seasons warranted?

Thompson: We had two terrific, unbelievable years with back-to-back championships. If you would have given anybody that wanted to take a bet that they'd do that within the next 10 years, nobody would bet it because it's that tough to do.

The expectations of the coaches and players have risen because of that. We forget that we're only two years removed and people are already starting to get excited about this team being down and the way the program's gone. That's far from the case. We have lost some key players that haven't come through in recruiting, for one reason or another, which has put a lot of pressure on this team.

I've preached this for 25 years about Iowa State – you've got to have somebody that can coach the game and get more out of his players than other coaches. That comes by coaching them well and being prepared. I don't see anybody any better at doing that than Coach Eustachy.


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