Despite Iowa State's 87-82 loss at Oklahoma this past weekend, and despite DeAndre Kane's uncertain status after a late-game ankle injury, it is fair to say that the Cyclones are a much better team than anyone expected at the beginning of the season. Coach Fred Hoiberg's team didn't receive a single vote in the AP preseason poll, for example. When it came to the Big 12, Kansas and Oklahoma State generated buzz among college basketball observers, not the players from Ames, Iowa.
But the Cyclones started the season 14-1, and as a result the expectations for this team have changed rather dramatically. In fact, in Joe Lunardi's latest NCAA tournament bracket projection, my colleague shows Iowa State as a No. 2 seed. Not bad for a group that was picked preseason to finish fourth in the Big 12.
I already had some notions about what's been behind Iowa State's surprising run, but I wanted to check my assumptions with a Cyclones expert. So I called Hoiberg. With the coach's invaluable assistance, I can now lay before you the step-by-step process for going from unranked to potentially a very high seed come tournament time. Coaches, grab a pencil. It goes like this...
1. Improve significantly on defense
Iowa State is well-known for being highly efficient on offense, and rightly so. Early in the Big 12 season, the Cyclones have scored 1.12 points per possession, a level of production that corresponds quite well with last season's excellent figure in league play (1.13).
However, the Cyclones have made the biggest strides this season on defense. Their numbers on that side of the ball took a hit when Oklahoma rang up 87 points in a 78-possession game, but this season as a whole, Iowa State is forcing many more misses from the field than in 2012-13. Even after the OU loss, Big 12 opponents are still shooting just 44 percent on their 2s against this D.