Don’t look now, but the Iowa State Cyclones might as well be up to something special. T.J. Otzelberger’s team has gotten off to a 12-2 start and has yet to lose a conference game for the first time since 2000, a year when they reached the Final Four.
Needless to say, the fact that they play in the Big 12 and that they were ranked as the 8th-best team in the conference despite losing multiple starters only makes this feature all the more impressive. They’ve already beaten a couple of ranked opponents, have gotten multiple wins on the road and even snapped the TCU’s Horned Frogs’ impressive eleven-game winning streak.
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So, even though we’re still several weeks away from the Big Dance, this great start to the campaign means that the Cyclones are just a handful of wins away from earning an invitation to the NCAA Tourney. With 15 games still left in their regular-season schedule, that seems like a realistic goal for Coach Otzelberger.
But more than that, this also officially puts the Cyclones in the ‘Dark Horse’ category. We already know anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament, and this squad has upset potential, even if they’re not as highly touted as Texas or Kansas.
Regardless of their offensive inconsistency, this team often seems to find a way to dig themselves out of a hole and get the win. Their defense is officially one of the most dominant in the nation, averaging just 58.2 points per game, which ranks 9th among college hoops.
That has given them the confidence to feel like they can win any game, regardless of who’s their rival or if they’re trailing by double digits or not. They’ll get everything out of the mud, and that resiliency is just what could turn a good team into a legendary one once the stage is set for the Big Dance.
— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) December 30, 2022
Confidence For Coach Otzelberger
“We really believe that the team that’s more together is going to find a way to win those close games, however, you have to do that,” coach Otzelberger said after their big win over TCU. “Obviously, it’s great [to be undefeated in the Big 12]. It’s so hard to win in this league. It’s so hard to win on the road. We just have to keep getting better every day. It’s early January. It’s a long conference season. It’s just one day at a time.”
Notably, even though their defense has been their biggest strength, none of that success would’ve been possible without senior guard Jaren Holmes, who’s leading the team in points and assists per game while also ranking second in minutes played per contest.
TJ Otzelberger should be in convo for National Coach of the Year. Not saying he would win it, but he’s done one heck of a job this season.
Iowa State’s last three games: wins against Baylor and on road against both Oklahoma and TCU.
Cyclones are 12-2 and 3-0 in Big 12.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) January 7, 2023
Jaren Holmes Continues To Be A Leader
Holmes is currently averaging 13.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.1 three-pointers per game. His shooting splits (38/36/65) aren’t exactly impressive or NBA-worthy, but despite the inefficiency, the 6’4’’ athlete always seems to make the right play at the right time, especially when they have their backs against the wall:
“I just think it shows our will to win no matter what odds are stacked against us,” Holmes said of his team’s impressive season. “We’re not trying to prove people wrong. We’re just proving ourselves right every single day.”
Also, even though efficiency hasn’t been his cover letter this season, it’s worth noting that this is Holmes’ first season in the Big 12. He came after three seasons in a lesser program like St. Bonaventure, so chances are he’s just learning the ropes of the conference, and his numbers will only trend up once he gets used to those defenses.
He shot nearly 42% from the floor in three seasons with the Bonnies, and the fact that he didn’t hesitate to embrace a leadership role in his first year with the Cyclones is also encouraging, so we should expect some positive regression to the mean.
The 6’4-210 pound specimen won’t hesitate to pull up from anywhere on the court. Even if his shot isn’t falling, his confidence will remain intact, and he’ll never hesitate to take a big shot when his team is in desperate need of a bucket, which has happened quite often throughout the season.
— Jaren Holmes (@3BallJay) April 29, 2022
Will They Keep Up Throughout 2023?
So, the Cyclones will continue to be a force to reckon with for as long as they keep playing that pesky, suffocating, and dominant defense of theirs, and as long as Jaren Holmes keeps taking a step forward and taking the shots other players are too scared to take.
The Cyclones have been one of the biggest surprises in all of NCAA basketball, and they’re the kind of team that you definitely don’t want to face in the tournament. So, expect to hear way more about them before the Madness gets underway.
— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) December 31, 2022