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Shanks: The inevitable learning curve for the offense

Jacob Rice
Keshon Gilbert shoots a free throw during the ISU vs. Grambling State men’s basketball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 19, 2023.

Looking back, I set myself up for a column like this.

After the Cyclones’ first four non-conference wins at home, I was praising the new members of the team for their ability to take the offense to a new level, which I had not seen before under T.J. Otzelberger. Even returning guys like Tamin Lipsey, Tre King and Robert Jones looked like they had made major improvements in their offensive game.

Along with the new offensive presence, the Otzelberger defensive system had carried over, which is what sometimes won games for the Cyclones in his first two years. The team was looking like an early-season sleeper and one of the most complimentary teams in the Big 12 Conference.

Then Iowa State traveled to Orlando, Florida, where both the team and my optimism were humbled.

Whether it was against VCU, Virginia Tech or Texas A&M, the Cyclones struggled to put together a complete game offensively.

In their first matchup, they needed a miracle comeback after struggling in the first half, then against Virginia Tech they had their respective runs in the second half but ultimately could not shoot their way back into the game.

Iowa State’s return to earth of a weekend culminated with its most disappointing loss of the tournament against Texas A&M. A blown 21-point lead left the Cyclones scrambling once again in the second half to salvage a win, which for the second game in a row they failed to do.

The common denominator among all three of these games: poor shooting from 3-point land.

The Cyclones shot a combined average of 21.9% from behind the arc in those three games, compared to their opponents’ 35.9%.

While this team has not relied on their 3-point shooting so far this season, they often found themselves needing a big three to get back into games, which they failed to do consistently.

The main culprit was Curtis Jones, who has not found his shot during his first handful of games with the Cyclones. He shot a combined 3-for-19 from 3-point land in those games and is now shooting 21.4% on the year.

The Buffalo transfer is one of two newcomers on the team, the other being Milan Momcilovic, with the weight of being a primary 3-point shooter for the Cyclones. While I am still optimistic that he can turn things around before getting into conference play, his early season slump from deep has been part of the reason Iowa State has failed to establish its presence offensively.

All of the blame cannot be put on Jones, and I do not mean to make it seem that way.

The main reason the Cyclones could not find a rhythm on offense was due to their sluggish presence in the paint. They have traditionally been a team that focuses on pushing the ball inside and if that does not work, kick it out for a three.

At times, Iowa State relied on putting up low-effort shots to get a foul call drawn, which did not always go its way. Even when the Cyclones got the the line, they failed to execute, especially against VCU and Texas A&M.

Well, when the threes are not falling combined with their traditionally poor free-throw shooting that made it even harder for them to go on scoring runs.

Now while it may not be time to hit the panic button just yet, it is time for something to change offensively for Iowa State to turn things around. It all starts with taking the right shots and getting back to what worked in the previous games which was establishing its presence in the paint.

I am a firm believer that if you win the battle in the paint, you can control the game regardless of how you are shooting from outside.

What should be a bounce-back game Friday against DePaul should also be used to iron out their mistakes from Orlando, and further the development of their offense which is still looking for ways to incorporate their new pieces.

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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