Men's Basketball Insider #6

Cyclone Nation's weekly Basketball Insider continues with Gary Thompson giving his take on Iowa State's recent two-game winning streak and improved play of Tim Barnes and Jackson Vroman. But the color commentator faces the question of, 'Are the Cyclones ready to win a Big 12 road game?'

CN: Let's start with a few of your comments on one of Iowa State's best performances of the season Tuesday night against Colorado.

Thompson: To me, that was the game of the year for the Cyclones. Everybody was kind of on pins and needles as far as that game was concerned wondering what we would do with a talented Colorado that's been playing pretty well.

We took the good half we played against Kansas State and followed it up with a great game right behind it. It amazed everybody. We just haven't seen that performance out of this team. The kids played like you'd imagined they could, but just hadn't gotten it in.

It was a terrific game, and was one of those that everything just went right. When you're making baskets, what a difference it makes in how you perceive the game. Technically, a team could play great and can't hit a basket and you think they played a lousy game. Then they could play another game where they hit everything, but are fundamentally unsound, yet you think they're great because they hit everything. We kind of put the combination together. Our defense set the tone for our offense. We were up in Colorado contesting shots.

The inspiration of Marcus Jefferson coming back four and a half hours before the game gave everyone an emotional boost. They had lost Clint Varley and things were looking difficult.

A lot of it has been lack of confidence, but it's starting to show up. I felt in the Kansas game down there that we played good defensively. We were aggressive and stayed in that ball game well. In fact, we limited Kansas in total points to the least they've had in conference play.

CN: Instead of needing a second-half run to pull out a Big 12 game at home, the Cyclones gained the upper hand early against the Buffaloes. How much did that fast start have to do with their solid effort throughout the game?

Thompson: It's a combination of two things in playing well throughout the game. One, I think we were really motivated. (Tim) Barnes comes down the second half, particularly, and hits a couple shots. After the last one, he comes dancing back and you can just see and feel what's going through his body. He is really feeling it at that point. I don't think there's any chance of that team letting down. I made the comment at halftime – one thing Iowa State has to worry about is to come out, be sharp and not take the game for granted. They have to play at the same level.

Two, I think they took the game away from Colorado. I looked at the Colorado bench and it was a combination of things. Iowa State played well the whole game and Colorado went downhill. We just took it away from them. Their coaches were out of the game. I felt like they gave up the game almost at the end of the first half. I looked over there and like to see the reactions of coaches. There wasn't any fight on them. That carries over to their team. They start playing as individuals, one-on-one and got away from team play.

That's what I like about Larry Eustachy. I watch games where we're down 15 or 16 points with 10 or 12 minutes left in the game, yet he's out there fighting and urging that team on and trying to get them to perform to the best of their ability.

CN: A lot has been made of Tim Barnes' resurgence of late at a position of vital need for ISU. We already know Barnes' backcourt mate Jake Sullivan can score 15 to 20 points on any given night, but now we're starting to see just hot important Barnes is to the mix. Are you starting to sense the effect Barnes has?

Thompson: I don't just sense it, you're just realizing it. I felt all along during the season when it wasn't happening, what an impact he had on the team in reverse when he wasn't getting the job done. That's what you're waiting for out of this kid. He has gotten some confidence.

He started out and got beat down playing against the top guards in the country in this league and lost his confidence. Now he's stepped it up a little bit. It shows what happens when you hit outside shots. It opens up inside where we've gone to (Jackson) Vroman. That changes the whole game. I thought his judgement in the break situations was good. He picked his spots, and made the passes and plays.

CN: Vroman seemed to pick his game up a few weeks ago as well. What certain experiences have these two JUCO kids gained to where finally starting to turn the corner at this time of the season, and playing as well as they did against the lesser non-conference opponents in November and December?

Thompson: Some come in and have adjustments to make, but others come in and just take off right away. With Vroman, Coach Eustachy will give Steve Barnes a lot of the credit. They have gotten him to slow down and under control. So many times he would make plays and spin dribbles, but it was all at a high speed to where he ended up throwing the ball at the basket instead of shooting it.

Now he's posting up, getting under control, make some moves, and read the defense and not just turn in and go. They're not slowing down his ability to go get the ball and make plays, it's just doing it once he gets into the offense with the ball.

CN: A few weeks ago, the question started getting posed to Larry Eustachy: ‘Have you lost your team?' Is this two-game winning streak evidence that he has all but lost his team?

Thompson: I have the liberty of being there and seeing practices all throughout the week. When people start talking about that and second-guessing, they don't know what they're talking about because they're not around the situation to see it.

It did surprise me starting out flat against Kansas State. I had just a little bit of worry there. But, again, we had some open shots in that game and weren't playing bad in the first half. When you don't hit shots, you don't look good and fall behind. Fortunately, Kansas State waited for us a little bit. When we were down 12, I thought we could have been down more.

Coach Eustachy just doesn't give up on a team. When you don't give up on your team, usually the kids stay with. They know he's fighting for you and trying to get the best out of you and the best performance, kids will respond.

CN: So do you think there was some method to Eustachy's picking up those two technicals against Kansas a few weeks ago? Was that meant more for his team than anything?

Thompson: Coaches do different things for affect. I don't know the sequence of that and haven't really asked Larry about that. I'd be curious myself. I saw that game on television and was gone for a week on vacation. I didn't see the technicals called on television. They were kind of subtle and I don't know if he knew he had the first one. I can remember watching the game in Arizona and told my wife that he was going to get a technical. He wanted it because he stayed after it. Then, all of a sudden, the next thing I know he's ejected.

I know that Larry and Tim Floyd, too, calculated sometimes when they were going to get a technical. Such and such would happen, this and that, and they were going to get a technical. I remember Tim Floyd telling me prior to a game, ‘Gary, this half I'm going to get a technical.' So there are different ways to motivate.

CN: ISU is obviously riding on a high with this two-game winning streak, and really has played well in spots throughout the past few weeks. But now ISU wraps up regular season play with two of three on the road. Is this team ready to break a two-year run of futility in conference road games?

Thompson: We haven't been that bad on the road. We just haven't won. It comes down to us scoring only around 50 points on the road, and that's tough to win with in any game in our league. Defensively, we're hanging in there, which is what you have to do on the road. You have to play defense to stay in there. We have held teams to 60 and 70 points, which should give you a great chance to win on the road. Offensively, we haven't put it together.

At Oklahoma State, Jake and Barnes had horrible nights shooting and we hung around for a while. It's a matter of continuing our confidence and taking it on the road. We have a great chance to finish up here in the next three games (with a five-game winning streak) going into the Big 12 Tournament, if we can continue to shoot the ball and play like we have.

CN: Given the fact that this team returns all but one player next season, do you feel this team is thriving on the fact that it's building a foundation for the future?

Thompson: A few weeks ago, it didn't look like we were playing for any (postseason) spots, but we have kept practicing and getting better. Larry Eustachy's teams normally keep improving as the year goes on. He keeps coaching them, regardless of the situation. He's getting the most out of his teams that he can.

This will pay great dividends. If these kids come on now and have success the last three games of the conference, and we have a great opportunity to do that, then win a game or two in the Big 12 Tournament, that gets you thinking positively about next year. It's important to finish well.

CN: Taking that one step further, how beneficial would it be for the Cyclones to earn an NIT bid, or maybe even sneak into the NCAA Tournament?

Thompson: The first priority always is to make the NCAA, because you've shown you played at a level that warranted you to get into the NCAA Tournament. The benefit of that is now your kids have experienced that and are ready to come back the next year.

As a coach, making any postseason tournament is like a bowl game in football. You get extra time to practice and work. If you're not going to be in the NCAA, then they can be in an NIT Tournament. If I can't make the NCAA as a player, the next thing is the NIT and that's where I want to be. That's going to motivate these guys to do the best that they can. It's still one game and you're out, so you play under that tournament pressure. That's going to help you and gives you that much more preparation time.

CN: Let's look ahead to the next task at hand for this team…Nebraska. What are some of your thoughts on this game?

Thompson: I always like to go on the road to play somebody after they just won a game. I don't want to play a team that just lost or has a streak of losses, which Nebraska has had. They broke that by beating Kansas State at home. I like that, because they're not as hungry to get that first win at home and break a streak. I like our position going over to Nebraska, with them having won and us playing well.

But we're going to have to be ready. This is a team that has played a lot of teams tough over there, but just haven't gotten over the hump. Nebraska has good athletes that are penetrators and slashers, which is something we've got to stop. We've got to stop the interior game more than the perimeter. Last time, they got to the foul line more times than we did. In addition to that, when you're getting to the foul line, it means you're penetrating and forcing the defense to come. In turn, they out-rebounded us in the game over here.

CN: In terms of rebounding, ISU seems to be doing a much better job in that category recently.

Thompson: We've been having some problems in rebounding this year. Our margins used to be around eight or 10, but are down to around a 4.2-plus margin this year. But that includes preseason games when you picked up a lot of margin. We out-rebounded Colorado and they had out-rebounded us out there. Now we've got to turn it around at Nebraska and do a good job on the boards.

CN: Is there a certain player who needs to be a big factor in Lincoln Saturday?

Thompson: One of my keys to the game (against Colorado) was I thought (Adam) Haluska had to be a double-figure scorer, but we had great performances out of everybody (against Colorado). I think Haluska needs to (give us some points). He has the ability, but has been in a little slump. That could be one of the nice keys, is for him to be a double-figure scorer.

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