Iowa State learning more about itself as season continues


Iowa State forward Robert Jones shoots a free throw in the Cyclones’ 2021-22 season opener against Kennesaw State on Nov. 9.

Matt Belinson

T.J. Otzelberger has only coached this year’s Cyclones for about 80 minutes of actual game action. So what has he learned in his short stint as head coach of the program?

Well, he knows what they should be. And he knows that a 2-0 start is nice, but there’s plenty to improve.

He knows what this year’s group can be if all the given variables get fixed or stay consistent. But outside of what he projects, it’s still a feeling-out process and working to get better in crucial aspects of the game.

Tuesday’s match-up against Alabama State is another chance to see how far along Iowa State is and what will need fixing as the season marches on.

With a win, Iowa State would improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2018-19 season and surpass last season’s win total.

“I know who we need to be to be successful,” Otzelberger said. “We need to be a team that pressures the heck out the other team in the half court. We saw that show up for us on Friday, better than it did Tuesday because we had a lot of unnecessary fouls and gambles.”

Otzelberger and his team took down Oregon State in a defensive showing on Friday, relying on relentless ball pressure and effort that the program needed fixed from a season ago.

Pressuring the basketball, forcing opponents into uncomfortable positions and flying around on the court are what Otzelberger believes can make up this team. They have to fight for rebounds and actively out-work other teams.

The question is, can it happen as quickly as the Cyclones hope, even with an intriguing start to the year?

“I know we have to be that team,” Otzelberger said.

The area Iowa State has found the most out about itself is that turnovers have become a problem.

Some of that was expected, given six transfers and an overhauled roster playing together with live bullets so to speak for the first time. But through two games, the Cyclones have 41 turnovers. Not a recipe for winning basketball in most circumstances, especially given the fact Iowa State has shot 48.4 percent from the field.

“The turnover thing is something to me we gotta clean up and it’s gotta be with a tremendous sense of urgency,” Otzelberger said.

It’s all about ‘time and score’ for Iowa State when it comes to turnovers, having a better feel for when in the game aggression is needed and when to build a rhythm.

Robert Jones might still be getting used to being a Cyclone and adjusting to how teammates play, but he knows turnover issues aren’t going to give the Cyclones much of a chance if they aren’t fixed soon.

Playing turnover-free stretches of basketball allowed the Cyclones to push the pace and dictate the flow of Friday’s win. But 19 turnovers against the Beavers is still far too many for them to be content with.

“First and foremost, we learned that we turn the ball over too much,” Jones, a transfer from Denver, said. “One of the biggest things that’s been holding us back is our turnovers.”

Playing the five, Jones said it’s on him and fellow center George Conditt IV to communicate on both ends of the floor. Their vantage point gives them the best view of the action on the floor, and they can let guards know when hard screens could be coming or a defender is looking to bait them into a turnover.

Jones and Conditt have each started a game this season at center, and both have been praised by Otzelberger for establishing a presence in the middle that was lacking last year.

And as the season progresses, Conditt and Jones expect themselves to be the anchor of the ship Otzelberger is trying to steer.

“One thing I would say about this team is we’re down for each other,” Conditt said. “He [Robert] had that big block, man, I’m the first one on the floor running when they call that timeout trying to support them and be happy for them.”

“We’ve only done half of our habits. A lot of it we’re still working on.”

Iowa State takes on Alabama State at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum. The game can be watched on ESPN+.