No. 17 Iowa State preaching daily habits ahead of tilt with Hawkeyes

Iowa State men’s basketball is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019.

James Powell

AMES- It’s been a whirlwind of a season so far for T.J. Otzelberger and his 8-0 Cyclone squad.

The Cyclones handled business in Ames to start the season, had an impressive trip to Brooklyn, took down Creighton in Omaha and now sit undefeated as they enter their annual contest against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Iowa comes in at 7-2 overall, with losses to Purdue and Illinois in its only two conference games. The Hawkeyes do have a win over Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC challenge on their resume.

Iowa State was picked to finish last in the preseason Big 12 poll, and while that could still happen, it was hard to picture the team start 8-0 with wins against Memphis, Xavier and Creighton already in the books.

Expectations aside, Otzelberger has his team performing at a high level, particularly on the defensive end. They allow just a tick over 60 points per game, while holding opponents under 40 percent shooting and turning them over around 19 times a game.

That’s a recipe for success no matter who comes into your home gym, but it’ll be a very good sign if the Cyclones’ feisty defense can hold up against Keegan Murray and the mighty Hawkeye offense.

Iowa ranks fifth in the country in scoring, putting up 90.1 points per game through their first nine contests. The Hawkeyes’ superstar, Keegan Murray, is scoring at a high level so far, scoring 23.9 ppg while shooting 59 percent from the field.

All of those statistics illustrate the stark contrast in how both teams like to win basketball games.

The Cyclones would be (and have been) perfectly comfortable with final scores in the 50’s, while any score below 80 would prove to be an off game for the Hawkeye offense.

Murray, a sophomore, has taken a big leap forward in his second season. He averaged just over seven points a game last season, but earned All-Big Ten freshman honors. He’s become a force to be reckoned with, and Izaiah Brockington knows that.

“I feel like when he plays at his own pace and his own rhythm, he can draw fouls and make the shots that he wants to make,” Brockington said of Murray. 

Before joining the Cyclones in the off-season, Brockington saw Murray last season during his time at Penn State. But this is the first dose of Murray that he will receive while donning the cardinal and gold.

In fact, there aren’t many players who have played in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk game before.

Of those expected to get playing time, only George Conditt, Tre Jackson and Caleb Grill have experience in this particular rivalry.

Their head coach, however, is a different story entirely. Otzelberger was around for many years of Cy-Hawk games as an assistant. He knows the level of worth this rivalry holds, but is more focused on the daily habits he has preached since the beginning of the season.

“We understand the importance of the game, and the intensity of the game,” Otzelberger said. “How we prepare and how we do things is we stress and emphasize and work really hard for daily habits. And we believe that if you continue to put your focus on those things and who we are as team, we believe the games will take care of themselves.”

The games certainly have taken care of themselves so far, with the Cyclones winning their first eight games.

Still, it’s hard not to get a bit more amped for a game with bragging rights at stake.

Just ask George Conditt.

“I kind of took a bit of a different look at it this year,” Conditt said. “I’m not trying to really focus and lock in and change anything I’ve been doing… it’s the rivalry and I grew up around it but I thought this way would be a lot better.”

Conditt did admit that his intensity reached a new level when it was time to play the Hawkeyes, but said this year he would take a different approach.

Whatever intensity is seen from the Cyclones, their head coach knows it’s clear that it will stem from their daily approach to becoming the team they want to be. 

“We’re still in that mode where we’re fighting for those habits every single day,” Otzelberger said. “So our preparation, while it has been intense and detail-oriented, it’s been about those habits and what we do every single day