Marcus Smart had just ripped two consecutive steals and free runs to the basket, capped by a reverse dunk to cut the Cyclone lead to two. 14,000 Cyclone fans were thinking, “uh oh”. My brother had just tried to punch a hole in the bottom of his seat (he failed). But the team pressed on.
Almost as quickly as Marcus Smart put the fear into our systems Will Clyburn settled our souls. Within a few seconds after that reverse jam, Korie Lucious got the ball down court to Clyburn who in rhythm squared up from the corner-wing and knocked down a three. The lead was back to five and the Cowboys would never get closer. In a game that meant so much for post season aspirations how much did that one single shot mean in the grand scheme of the season?
I spent all day yesterday with the pit in my stomach that is usually reserved for the tensest moments in the waning seconds of a game. As the Cowboys closed down on the lead we all wondered if the game and season were slipping away. The fearlessness there from Clyburn on a night when his jumper looked a twinge off and his free throw form seemed Royce White-ish saved the day and let us all breathe a little bit easier.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that after Iowa State scored 1.23 points per possession against Oklahoma State, which marked the most points given up by the Cowboys in conference play (the previous high was Iowa State and the game in Stillwater), that you were needing even more justification at just how good the Cyclone offense has been this year. As it turns out, writing about and analyzing the elite Cyclone offense is a lot more fun than the mediocre defense so you have come to the right place.
You may have noticed that in the last 12 games especially the Cyclone offense has been off the charts. ISU has averaged 81.6 points per game in those 12 and in all 17 conference games the Cyclones have topped 70 points on 13 occasions (in two more games ISU scored 69) but they have broken the 80 point barrier nine times in 17 games.
While those raw scoring numbers are nice you may be thinking that the high scoring is due to the more uptempo pace and extra possessions (although ISU is actually second—barely—in league play in possessions per 40 minutes at 67.14, behind Oklahoma State and just ahead of Baylor and Oklahoma). That however is not the case.
Iowa State is currently averaging 1.13 points per possession in Big 12 games, the leader in scoring efficiency, just edging out the Kansas State Wildcats. The impressive part for Iowa State is that their scoring efficiency has improved since conference play where the competition, in theory, should be tougher night in and night out than non-conference play. Throughout the non-conference season ISU averaged 1.11 points per possession which is still good but drops to 3rd when compared to other Big 12 teams and their non-conference scoring.
The remarkable part has been the consistency of the scoring attack. It isn’t easy for a team to score better than one point per possession for an entire season (I can’t remember but I think it has only happened once in recent history, I’ll have to try and dig that up) or even for a conference season. Iowa State however, has done that for every league game save the colossal hiccup in Lubbock where they could muster just 0.77 points per possession (against a bad Tech defense, I might add).
In conference play, the number of games for each of the other offenses where they couldn’t reach the baseline of one point per possession:
- Kansas State – 3
- Oklahoma – 4
- Kansas – 5
- Oklahoma State – 7
- Baylor – 8
- West Virginia – 8
- Texas – 9
- Texas Tech – 13
- TCU – 14
That consistency further separates the Cyclones from the other offenses. To help emphasize the point of consistency that the Cyclones offense has played with I made a chart (shocker). The games are in order that they were played and the following columns are: Iowa State’s points per possession in that game, the opposing team’s conference season long defensive points per possession allowed, and finally the scoring margin for those. They are color coded in each column as well so that you can easily pick out the best offensive output from ISU, the stingiest defense, and the best final margin.
You’ll note that just three times were opposing defenses able to hold the Cyclone offense to their defensive average or worse (West Virginia, TCU-Away, and Texas Tech-Away).
I keep hearing talk of this regarding the Iowa State offense both as a misplaced cliché but also talk of why it isn’t the case. I offered up some data earlier this week as to why it isn’t true for ISU, at all, but now, I have some more.
I took the 17 conference games played so far and sorted them by ISU’s points per possession scored in those games (even more obvious as the shading goes from red to blue). Then in the column to the left I charted the three pointers that they made per 50 possessions played in that game so that tempo was accounted for and on the right side I charted their three point percentage for that game.
I made it color coded because if they scoring efficiency for the game was high then surely the three pointers were falling in order to fuel that barrage if the old cliché holds true. So a given row should all be of similar color. As you can see, that isn’t the case. I used both measurements of three pointers to cover the bases of not only volume of shots made but accuracy as well.
You could potentially argue that there seem to be some loose trends of good three point shooting and scoring efficiency. The home game with Baylor is right near the middle for scoring efficiency and both measurements for three pointers are a dark blue as ISU’s worst three point shooting performance of the year. While that doesn’t prove the cliché true it does seem to be a breaking point where above it is all red for the three point data and below it all blue.
Even so, many of the best three point performances do not line up as well as expected if the offense is so absolutely dependent upon them to function. When you compare the each set of three point data to the scoring efficiencies using the correlation coefficient both numbers come out to 0.475. That puts both sets of data in the range of being a “medium correlation” to scoring. That still doesn’t sound like “living and dying by the three” to me.