Men's Basketball Insider #8

Cyclone Nation's weekly Basketball Insider continues in Dallas where Iowa State counts down the hours to its Big 12 Tournament opening-round game against Texas A&M. On the scene in Dallas, CN caught up with Gary Thompson for his thoughts on ISU's chances this week.

CN: Let's start with some of your thoughts on Iowa State's end to the Big 12 regular season.

Thompson: The end of the season gave some hope for the team. They came away with four wins, but were not able to get that road win. That was disappointing to the staff. There was a great chance to finish with four or five wins in a row, but they lost to Nebraska and Kansas State on the road.

Seemingly, this team played great games against Missouri and Colorado at home. They played like we felt this team could play when they're at their best. When they play at their best, it's good enough to beat NCAA teams. But for some reason we couldn't play with the same emotions and effort on the road.

CN: How much of winning on the road is making shots, though? In ISU's losses to K-State and Nebraska, it shot 50 percent or better in the first half only to struggle mightily coming out of the locker room.

Thompson: Anytime you go on the road, shooting is important. If you want to look at those two games, it was coming out and shooting the ball well. But Coach Eustachy said there was some falseness to that. I made the same statement about the Nebraska game.

As Iowa State was rolling along and holding a lead, I said there were two things that you can't expect to continue happening – the Cyclones to continue shooting 60-some percent and Nebraska missing easy shots taking it to the basket. They missed a lot of layups and kept us in. We're shooting 50 percent, but we're shooting 50 percent of 20 shots.

Kansas State took 13 more shots in the first half than we got, so therein lies the difference since we were turning the ball over. We didn't take care of the basketball against Kansas State. The other factor was rebounding. We started the game rebounding well, but at the end of the half when we lost it the rebounding went to them.

CN: There's no better time to get those fortunes away from Hilton Coliseum turned around than this week in Dallas. What is your outlook for this team against Texas A&M?

Thompson: I think we get an excellent draw. Texas A&M is 14-13 and we're 15-12. We've got a few days to prepare, which is great. We played them on the road and were in the game and had a lead in the first half. Then we just couldn't pull it off, which has happened on the road.

We're going to play the same team and should have some confidence, since we played with them on the road. Now you bring them into Dallas and get them in the first round.

Overall, I like Iowa State's bracket if you want to look long range. Texas A&M is a good draw and the next game the winner will get Kansas. But you're going to catch top teams in the tournament sooner or later. I think I'd rather be in the bracket with Kansas in the top part of the bracket than the lower bracket where you're going to have Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.

CN: That's a good assessment, figuring the Cyclones were at least able to hang in there with the Jayhawks in Lawrence last month before falling out of contention late.

Thompson: That can happen when you're on the road playing Kansas. You have to play 40 minutes against Kansas. But that's where we gained some confidence back in this team – is the game at Kansas. We played them pretty darn tough, especially defensively. We had some trouble shooting the ball again, but we stayed in the first half and part of the second before we wore out and went downhill.

CN: I believe it's a lock the NIT will take the Cyclones next week, being a Big 12 team with a winning record. Looking past the Big 12 Tournament just a little, what would you say ISU's chances are and what benefit will the experience have for the future?

Thompson: Nothing's a cinch as far as the NIT. I think right now Iowa State had a really good chance of being in the NIT even before the Big 12 Tournament started. If they beat Texas A&M in the first game, there would be no doubt about it.

I've said before – I think the advantages for Iowa State in playing in the NIT is that they have a young team. Playing in the Big 12 Tournament will even help their experience. But also going to the NIT and being in the one game and your out setting will pay a lot of dividends in the future.

We've got most everybody coming back. A lot of our key players like Jackson Vroman, Tim Barnes and Adam Haluska are first-year players learning the system. That experience will be invaluable.

CN: Looking to Thursday's first-round game with Texas A&M, what can we expect from the Aggies' one-two punch of Bernard King and Antoine Wright?

Thompson: They're a team that we all knew was taken lightly to start the year. Teams figured that was a game they could win. Well Texas A&M showed, like the rest of the lower division of the Big 12, that they were tough. It's tough to come away with wins in this conference.

Texas A&M has two super kids that have made the season for them. They had some real good wins in the conference. Wright is the top-scoring freshman in the Big 12 and Haluska was right behind him in second. Both of those kids made the all-freshman team. King is a veteran. A lot has been said over the years that he goes on his own a lot, one-on-one, and played for himself. But I think they've gotten that back together, with the addition of Wright.

However, a game I saw on television, they fell behind early against Oklahoma State and got in trouble. They reverted back to that one-on-one. So I think if you can jump on Texas A&M early and get them out of that team concept, your chances are better.

CN: The Aggies out rebounded ISU by a 37-30 margin at College Station. How much of a factor is gaining an edge in rebounding?

Thompson: Rebounding is really important and has been a tradition for Larry Eustachy's teams. When we've rebounded well, we've played well and stay right with good teams. We can't give them second chances. This team out rebounded us in the first game and we're going to have to turn it around and at least break even or get the advantage.

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