AMES – TJ Otzelberger has made it clear he doesn’t want to talk about last season anymore.
The Iowa men’s basketball coach wants to turn the page on last year’s shocking 16-year-old season so this year’s players can be judged on their own merits, without the expectations of a wildly outclassed team hanging over them.
It’s hard, however, not to look back on last year’s team and at least use it as a roadmap for the Cyclones to win back-to-back NCAA Tournament spots for the first time since going for a school record seven straight from 2012-17.
As with last year, this group appears, on paper, to be challenged offensively, but potentially elite defensively, the parallels are easy to draw.
“We believe we can hang our hats on our defense,” said Otzelberger.
Iowa State Men’s Basketball Beats IUPUI 88-39 in Season Opener
Last year’s team did the same and did it right away. Defense propelled the Cyclones to a 12-0 start outside the conference and allowed them to maintain a 7-11 Big 12 record as the offense came and went.
It’s hard not to see this as a role model again, especially after an impressive defensive performance in the Cyclones’ 88-39 season-opening win over IUPUI on Monday.
“Our group, how we come together and the faster we do it, certainly benefits us, especially on defense, because it gives us our identity,” Otzelberger said. “We scored our defense. You build trust that way. Other teams, when you weaken them and they’re not getting what they want offensively, they don’t communicate as well. They don’t defend either.
“We are certainly trying to impose our will and mindset.”
Iowa State (1-0) did it against the woefully defeated Jaguars, who shot 33% from the ground and turned 24 times.
“We held them at 39 points,” said point guard Caleb Grill, “but after the game, everyone knew we could probably have them at less than 30 points. There are many things we can still improve.”
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The state of Iowa handed over the IUPUI on 40% of its holdings on Monday, the best mark in the country. Generating turnovers was a hallmark of the Cyclones’ defensive success a year ago.
“We will certainly continue to be highly disruptive defensively,” Otzelberger said. “Some nights equate to more turnovers, other nights maybe you interrupt them or come up with a different shot or a forced shot or guys so you don’t pass on so much to each other.”
“We want to be highly disruptive. We don’t want teams to be able to execute their offense.”
While Sunday’s opponent North Carolina A&T (noon; ESPN+) doesn’t seem to offer much resistance to cyclones, Iowa will need its defense in good shape soon. With the prestigious Phil Knight Invitational approaching later in the month and more key opponents awaiting later, Iowa State’s ability to navigate the non-conference will largely depend on its defense.
“There are all these things that we’re trying to do that take a lot of effort, great communication, and habits every day,” said Otzelberger. “It felt like a fair amount of this stuff came through for us (Monday), but there is certainly still a lot of work to be done on our rotations and communication.”
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8000🇧🇷 Ffollow him at @TravisHines21.