Belinson: Examining Iowa State’s glaring offensive statistics

Iowa State guard Calbe Grill looks to pass the ball to a teammate in the Cyclones’ season opener against Kennesaw State on Nov. 9.

Matt Belinson

This is a critical point in the season for Iowa State men’s basketball.

The Cyclones are tied for last in the Big 12 (3-8), have lost five of their last six Big 12 contests and enter a do-or-die stretch of games if they still hope to make the NCAA Tournament.

If you watched a game of Iowa State’s this season, you’ll notice a few things — the most glaring being a dysfunctional offense.

But T.J. Otzelberger will say Iowa State won’t be a great or maybe even a good offensive team the rest of the way. Whether you agree with that approach, it’s reality.

Let’s look at the biggest issues for Iowa State’s offense and dive into what the black and white world of statistics has to say about it.

Three-point woes

Three-point shooting and Iowa State men’s basketball? Let’s just say it’s not a great relationship.

The Cyclones are shooting 31.7 percent from deep this season — like I said, not great.

If the season ended today, it would be good for the second-worst three-point percentage for the Cyclones in the last 12 seasons.

Iowa State has shot over 35 percent from three just nine times this year, including three times in Big 12 play.

And shocker — Iowa State is 8-1 in games where that happened.

But in those nine games, has it really been Iowa State as a whole that’s catching fire? Or is it a hot night from one player at a time carrying the load?

Here’s what the data says: in Iowa State’s nine games where it has shot over 35 percent from three, 50.7 of those made threes have come from a singular source — not a nice and even distribution.

That’s what makes the three-point shooting an even bigger concern in my mind.

Not only are the Cyclones shooting 31.7 from deep, but when they have nights of competence and even brilliance from three, it’s clear that it’s really been one person who does the job and makes the data misleading to an extent.

Need some reminders of when this has happened? 

Iowa State made 12 threes at Oklahoma State Jan. 26. Caleb Grill made five of those, and the rest of the team went 7-21.

How about 10 makes vs Southeastern Louisiana? Grill made six.

Even when the Cyclones shot a season-high 52 percent from three vs Grambling State? Aljaz Kunc made five.

And one might say, ‘Well that’s basketball. Players get hot and can carry an offense for a night.’

That’s fair in theory. But if you’re Iowa State, I don’t know if it’s good to know in those nine competent games, Kunc, Tre Jackson and Grill have been the ones to do most of the work. Those players have had nice moments but aren’t exactly the model of consistency.

Gabe Kalscheur, Iowa State’s highest-volume three-point shooter, has had just three games where he’s made at least three three-pointers this season.

Free throws — you gotta make them.

No, this isn’t going to be a typical Twitter rant you might have seen after an Iowa State loss.

But similar to three-point shooting, free throws usually determine who wins the game. And if you’re Iowa State, getting to the free-throw line is a must going forward given the clear shooting problems.

And the data shows success.

The Cyclones are 6-2 in games where they’ve shot at least 20 free throws — however, that’s happened twice in Big 12 play, and they’ve lost both games.

But here’s the other problem: in games where they shoot 20 or more free throws, they only shoot 72 percent from the line.

The Cyclones miss an average of seven free throws in those games. That can’t happen. 

Fixes aren’t going to come easy — or maybe at all — for this team. Otzelberger has made that clear. 

But if these two issues aren’t fixed, a top-15 defense won’t get the job done in the final seven games of the season.