MEN’S BASKETBALL: Cyclones seek to match competitiveness

Craig Brackins attempts a shot on Nov. 13 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones face in-state rival Iowa at 7 p.m. Friday at home. File photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Craig Brackins attempts a shot on Nov. 13 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones face in-state rival Iowa at 7 p.m. Friday at home. File photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Chris Cuellar —

ISU men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott stepped up to the podium with a smile on his face, but that smile disappeared faster than the Cyclones’ undefeated season when he began discussing his team’s recent struggles.

Starting 6–0 with an average win margin of 24 points has led to a three-game losing streak for the Cyclones. Iowa State has been held to 65 points or less in their three defeats. Battling early injuries and a busy schedule that has just started to slow down, McDermott is ready for his team to step up its game.

“We need to win. Winning cures a lot of things,” McDermott said. “Most importantly, we’ve got to use these four days and we’ve got to make some strides as a team. We’re a team back on our heels right now. We’re not a real confident team and when you lose a few in a row, it’ll do that to you.”

The team gets the rival Iowa Hawkeyes in the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum on Friday, a game that may hold more importance than the “one game at a time” cliche would let on. A win against the in-state foe would redeem a loss on the road last year, make up points in the Cy-Hawk Series and, most notably, give bragging rights to a Cyclone team that would be more than grateful to end its losing slide Friday.

“It’s important, it’s a rival, but we want to get off the losing streak,” said forward Craig Brackins. “If it was just one loss, then you ‘try’ and go for the win, but it’s losing streak, and that’s not what you want to be on.”

Brackins has been instrumental to the team’s play this season, just as fans and conference voters expected, but with the increased athleticism and depth around the star junior, statistics read like 2008–’09. Leading the team in scoring and shot attempts is not surprising, but Brackins is also second on the squad in rebounds, assists and steals and leads in minutes played and blocks.

“I think we have more weapons,” McDermott said. “Our shot attempts, obviously Craig is taking the most attempts, because he needs to, he’s talented.

“Again, it’s some of our movement off the ball when Craig has it that has to improve and that’s something that we really need to address this week.”

The squad has been out-rebounded in the run of losses and was beaten by a season-high 19 points and 19 grabs off the glass.

“We have a lot of things we have to work out on both ends of the floor, rebounding in particular, to try and put our guys in position where they can be a little bit more successful,” McDermott said.

Players besides Brackins are also feeling the pinch, and with forwards Jamie Vanderbeken and LaRon Dendy battling knee problems, the depth in the paint is preparing to step up.

“We need to play harder and work on our defense, rebound, and try and get a win, whatever we have to do,” said forward Marquis Gilstrap.

The competition will get tougher from here on out for the Cyclones and their struggles with better competition have become quickly apparent in their six victories.

The combined records of their downed foes is currently 15–32, quite a contrast to the 16–5 overall record of the teams that knocked off the boys in cardinal and gold.

“The competition has stepped up, we haven’t,” Brackins said. “I think it’s time for us to do something about it, or this is what’s going to keep happening.

“We need to play harder. When a team plays harder, they look tougher; they’re outworking the other team.”

Getting to practice indoors while the predicted snowstorms hit the Midwest will be a boost, as the coaching staff wants to maximize the longer than typical wait before the game.