Iowa State is not going to the Final Four

About a week ago, I wrote a piece proclaiming that Iowa State was going to the Final Four, and there’s really nothing we can do about it.

The problem was that Caleb Swanigan, who put up a near triple-double in Purdue’s 80-76 Round of 32 victory on Saturday night, didn’t read my piece. Or, if he did, then he clearly decided that it was a load of shit, and he was going to dominate the Cyclones either way.

Before I go any further, let’s recap the game flow.

In the first half, Iowa State had no answer for Swanigan and Haas. Their offense relied far less on Monte and Burton than it should have, and Purdue essentially ran them out of the gym.

Then, early in the second half, the Boilermakers pushed their lead to 19. 19 points! It was getting ugly. “Monte deserved a better ending,” I thought. “I’m going to miss Deonte Burton,” I also thought. I nearly turned off my television in disgust. The Cyclone’s Steve Prohm had seemingly created a a game plan for “losing to Purdue” rather than “beating Purdue.” I was disgusted and disappointed, but most unfortunately, I was wrong.

Then, something special happened. Matt Painter went FULL Matt Painter and decided to sit Biggie on the backend of a Purdue spurt. The color commentator, whose name has escaped my memory, gave this paraphrased explanation:

“Matt Painter giving Biggie a blow quick, in case they need him for the stretch run of this game”

Ok, Mr. Announcer Man, let me get this straight. Matt Painter is pulling Biggie right now for a blow which will likely allow Iowa State to make a little push of their own. They will cut in to Purdue’s lead, and then when the game is relatively close again at the end, Purdue will have a fresh Biggie to throw the hammer down?

I have another idea: Why not just keep Swanigan out there, drive the lead to 25 or 30, and then sit his ass down for the final ten minutes because, you know, the game is out of reach. That would be the non-Matt Painter way of attacking a common coaching problem. Instead, Painter likes to make things difficult on himself by not letting his best player put the game away.

Anyways, Painter subbed Isaac Haas in for Biggie. In a few minutes, Iowa State and Purdue traded buckets for a minute or two. The decision to pull Biggie hadn’t totally backfired yet, but as a Cyclone fan, I felt more comfortable with Purdue’s best player on the bench. Then, Painter really made the most Matt Painter move of all the Matt Painter decisions.

Painter decides to get Haas out, but not put Biggie in! So, for a minute, Purdue didn’t have either of their two best and most important players in the game! And yes, in that time frame, Iowa State followed two incompetent Purdue possessions with wide open threes, and they cut the lead from 15 to 9, or something like that. After the second of those threes, a Monte Morris pull-up, Painter called a timeout and got his National Player of the Year candidate back in the game.

But, it looked like a lost cause. Steve Prohm remembered how to coach, and started getting Burton isolation touches at the high elbow. If it wasn’t Burton attacking Biggie one-on-one, it was Monte working with a spaced floor and a high screen. After Prohm started directly exposing these clear matchup advantages, Purdue really couldn’t stop the Cyclones. Iowa State eventually took the lead with a few minutes left on a couple Deonte Burton free throws.

If not for some lucky Purdue three point shooting and a HUGE offensive rebound by Swanigan on a missed free throw down the stretch, the Cyclones would have erased that 19 -point deficit and advanced to the sweet 16. Instead, they ran out of gas a bit, and came up a bucket or two short.

Here are my takeaways:

  1. Matt Painter is still a terrible coach. I mean, if Biggie doesn’t play hero ball and the Purdue guards miss a couple of deep threes, the Purdue faithful is probably calling for Painter’s head after another disappointing Tournament result. I usually don’t buy into the whole “Coach X can’t coach in March,” but pulling Biggie for Haas and then later pulling Haas and playing without either of them on the court at a critical juncture of the game was an absolutely perplexing decision that very nearly cost the Boilermakers the game.
  2. Steve Prohm, for some reason, made the game far too difficult in the first half. The sport of basketball is really just a matter of figuring out the individual match-ups where you have an advantage and exploiting said match-ups. Purdue didn’t have anyone who could stick with either Burton or Morris. There’s no reason Prohm shouldn’t have been spacing the floor and starting every possession with a Morris isolation, a Burton isolation, or a Burton high screen for Morris, all the while spacing the floor with shooters. Purdue couldn’t come anywhere close to guarding that blue print down the stretch, and it’s curious as to why Iowa State didn’t turn to that plan until midway through the second half.
  3. Monte Morris is a basketball savant. He’s played his last game in maroon and gold and I’m not sure his size and limited shooting range will translate particularly well to the NBA, so there’s a fairly decent chance we’ve seen the last of Morris on a big stage. He’s the all-time NCAA leader in assist/turnover ratio by a country mile, and watching him in Ames for the last couple years has been the most fun I’ve ever had watching basketball. For that, I’m forever grateful.
  4. Deonte Burton is an absolute savage. I already knew this, but he went toe-to-toe with Biggie all night and played with his heart on his sleeve. Like Morris, he’ll be sorely missed in the college basketball world.
  5. I was wrong, but I was also kinda right. Had Purdue blown the Cyclones out, I would have been totally wrong. Instead, Iowa State exploited the exact match-ups that I thought they would, they just waited 32 minutes to do it instead of right from the tip. I knew Purdue couldn’t guard Morris and Burton, but I didn’t think it would take Prohm three quarters of the game to figure that out.
  6. Purdue’s Vince Edwards is far better than I’ve been giving him credit for. I always thought Purdue was largely just the Biggie show, but Vince Edwards made a couple winning plays down the stretch and proved to be a key cog offensively in Purdue’s first half offensive foray. If the Boilermakers have any shot to beat Kansas, they need Edwards to make winning plays for 40 minutes, all the while dealing with Josh Jackson.
  7. Matt Thomas is a winner. During Iowa State’s lethargic first half, Thomas was hitting tough shot after tough shot, keeping Iowa State afloat. Without him, the Cyclones would have been down 100 (or something like that) at halftime.

To the Iowa State faithful, I’m sorry I was overly confident in Prohm and company. Iowa State beats Purdue 8/10 times, and it stinks that one of those eight wasn’t on Saturday night. You’re losing a stupendous senior class, and I can only imagine this loss stings like a bitch. For that, I’m really sorry. But, you can at least watch Fred Holberg get fired in Chicago soon and that’ll be really funny.

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