It might have been easier for Iowa State fans to absorb a loss to Pittsburgh if it had been a simple day off. Upsets happen, as they did to Purdue and Arizona, and a one-off fluke could have been brushed away as just a rough day in a successful season.
Still, that’s not what happened in Greensboro. The Cyclones were handled in every way by Pitt, failing to put up much of anything resembling a fight. Iowa State scored just 41 points in the loss to the Panthers, shooting just 23% from the floor and never once leading. It was about as ugly of an exit as the Cyclones could have had.
So how did a team go from finishing in the top half of the Big 12 to meekly exiting against a First Four participant?
Here’s what went wrong for Iowa State and remember you can still bet on March Madness in Iowa with ClutchBet.
Iowa State Needed a Shooter
Take note: that does not say that Iowa State needed Caleb Grill. T.J. Otzelberger is a college basketball coach, and that means winning basketball games is job number two, not job number one. Job number one is representing Iowa State University with class and integrity. If that was no longer possible with Grill in uniform, then good on Otzelberger for not sacrificing his values in the name of wins.
With that said, man, did Iowa State need someone who could hit shots against Pittsburgh.
Grill’s role was to make shots, and he did that pretty well until his dismissal from the team. Without him around, nobody stepped into his role, and Pittsburgh took full advantage. The Panthers knew that Iowa State couldn’t beat them by shooting the ball, so they counted on their own ability to take care of the basketball and hit shots while daring the Cyclones to beat them with the jumper.
Pitt’s strategy worked to perfection. Iowa State couldn’t hit anything against Pitt, preventing the Cyclones from ever dictating the way the game went. Iowa State wins games when teams get frustrated and make mistakes, leading to easy layups. But Pittsburgh thought it had nothing to fear from the Cyclone shooters, so it stayed patient and played its game. The Panthers didn’t need to force the issue, and they didn’t, robbing Iowa State of its best weapon.
— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) March 17, 2023
The Cyclones Played Too Aggressive
Pitt’s patience paid off in multiple ways. The Panthers knew ahead of time that if they could stick with their strategy, Iowa State would send them to the free throw line — a lot.
That’s been the Cyclones’ biggest weakness on defense all season long. Iowa State ranked 283rd in the nation in sending teams to the foul line, and it happened again on Friday. Not only that, but it happened against a good foul shooting team. Jamarius Burton and Greg Elliott both excel at hitting free throws, and they did it again on Friday, sinking 17 of 19 shots from the stripe. As a team, Pittsburgh shot 25-for-29 from the foul line, hitting 86.2% for the game.
Once again, the Panthers successfully used the Cyclones’ aggressiveness against them. Iowa State’s defensive strategy is built around aggression and making opponents uncomfortable, but Pitt never got uncomfortable at any point. The Panthers knew that if they could stay poised, the opportunities would come against the Cyclones.
That’s a problem with the current makeup of Iowa State, and it’s something Otzelberger must address in recruiting or in the portal. If an opponent doesn’t fear the Cyclones’ offense, it’s much easier to stay comfortable and poised in the face of pressure. Pitt knew that Iowa State couldn’t beat it without a shooter; it could only fall if it beat itself. With an experienced lineup on the floor, the Panthers were not about to wilt.
The Cyclones are starting to make some noise ‼️#MarchMadness @CycloneMBB pic.twitter.com/51rI8za2SJ
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 17, 2023
Iowa State Didn’t Cash In Its Opportunities
Shooting poorly from behind the arc is going to happen. But when it does, a team as dominant on defense as Iowa State must take advantage of any opportunities that it gets. Against Pittsburgh, that did not happen.
The Panthers gave them chances by giving away the ball nine times in the first half, but the Cyclones only turned 10 of them into points. In the second half, it was even worse: none of Pitt’s six giveaways resulted in a single point for Iowa State.
Nor did the Cyclones turn their offensive rebounds into much of anything. Iowa State snagged 16 offensive rebounds, an excellent showing. But the Cyclones only turned that into 10 second-chance points, a highly wasteful performance in the NCAA tournament.
When you aren’t shooting well, you can still win a game if you take advantage of other opportunities. The Cyclones didn’t, and it’s a problem that they must address this offseason. Right now, Iowa State has only one way to win: it must create easy baskets off its defense. If a team doesn’t get frustrated against the Cyclones, they really don’t have a plan B available.
That means scorers, and that’s where Iowa State must focus this offseason. The Cyclones have a strong defensive foundation in place, but that can only take them so far. For Otzelberger to make regular runs in the tournament, he’s got to bring offensive talent to Ames.
Ferocious slam from King 👑 @CycloneMBB pic.twitter.com/k1k3ZTrOT2
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 17, 2023
Credits on Featured Image: APImages/Digital License