Life was good in Ames, Iowa, through the first 15 games of the season. Fred Hoiberg had his most intriguing squad of his tenure.
His point guard, Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, had snuck into the Wooden Award conversation. The players around him formed a unit that seemed poised to contend for the Big 12 crown. It wasn't crazy at that time to think the Cyclones were the best team in the league, as they'd just crushed Baylor at Hilton Coliseum by 15 points.
They were a top-10 team on the rise with wins over Michigan, Iowa and Baylor.
They're still a nationally ranked team, but they're falling as they prepare for a critical home game against No. 22 Kansas State on Saturday.
What's wrong with the Cyclones?
Iowa State, ranked No. 16, has a variety of challenges. The Cyclones are not strong on the offensive glass (297th in offensive rebounding rate per Ken Pomeroy). They've also been a middle of the pack free-throw shooting team (70.8 percent) in Big 12 play.
But their most important struggle is centered on the 3-point line.
As opposing coaches prep for Hoiberg's squad, they emphasize the quandary presented by the program's lengthy list of 3-point shooters. And they're not all guards.
Iowa State typically forces opponents to guard every player on the court in space because they're all so versatile.
But the 3-pointer has not been as meaningful for Iowa State in Big 12 play as it was during the nonconference part of the schedule. Through five league games, 40 percent of the team's field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. But they're shooting only 28.3 percent on 3-pointers in Big 12 play, ninth in the league. Only 28 percent of their offensive output thus far is credited to 3s, which in large part explains their 2-3 start in conference play.
So much of Iowa State's identity is based on its offensive diversity, as seven players have made at least 34 3-pointers this season.
So its recent problems from deep have been pivotal in its current three-game losing streak. Iowa State's upcoming four-game stretch will be a gantlet with home games against Kansas State and Oklahoma and a pair of road matchups against Kansas and Oklahoma State.
It's an opportunity for Iowa State to get back into a healthy rhythm. But it could also extend the fall.
Iowa State's success at the 3-point line, or lack thereof, could be the element that dictates the path it will take.