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Iowa State Daily

Cyclones assess first three games, how to continue growing

Jacob Rice
Demarion Watson at the 2023 Big 12 Tournament Semifinals versus Kansas in the T-Mobile Center, Mar. 10.

Following a week off after playing three games during the first week of the season, the Cyclones evaluated and regrouped prior to their matchup against Grambling State.

Although Iowa State started their season perfectly with a trio of commanding wins at Hilton, head coach T.J. Otzelberger knows there is a lot more to take away from the first week of the season than just the final score.

The Cyclones have scored an average of 91 points per game, highlighted by their triple-digit scoring efforts against Lindenwood. In each game, they have lived in the paint with everyone on the team making it a main emphasis to win the scoring battle in the trenches.

Iowa State has also found success spreading the ball around offensively, with four players averaging double-digit scoring. Much like the last two years in the Otzelberger era, the team has lived off of creating turnovers on defense and executing on those extra chances offensively.

“Offensively our ability to attack in transition, I think we’ve showed some positives there,” Otzelberger said. “Some offensive balance, different guys on different nights getting it going.”

One thing the Cyclones have taken advantage of during the start of the season is fleshing out the new members of the team. With an almost completely different roster compared to last season, Otzelberger has made it a point to work in different rotations and see what sticks.

So far, the freshmen and transfer players have provided a spark offensively and bought into Otzelberger’s defensive mantra, which has made every lineup for the Cyclones this season successful.

“We’ve seen different combinations that have been effective,” Otzelberger said. “To get guys minutes in games is important, especially for some of the guys with less experience. A lot of things we can take away that are positives but yet a ton we can continue to learn and improve from.”

A returning player in Otzelberger’s system, guard Demarion Watson, has been a player the Cyclones can turn to on the bench as a versatile defender.

While his stats through three games don’t show it, Watson has forced shooters into tough shots and forced turnovers.

“[Watson] has the versatility to guard a really good guard and we’ve done that last year and utilized that,” Otzelberger said. “And he can be a guy you can put on a front line guy and maybe switch some things and disrupt. Really proud of the focus Demarion [Watson] has kept and in that like zone and that space that we need him to be in.”

The sophomore from Maple Grove, Minnesota, averaged 11 minutes in his 29 appearances last season and has established himself as a solid bench player with that year under his belt. Through the first week of the season, Watson is averaging 12 minutes per game and is tied with Robert Jones for the second most blocks on the team (2).

Demarion Watson throws one down in warmups against Green Bay during the season opener at Hilton Coliseum on Nov. 6, 2023. (Tyler Coe)

With many new faces around him, Watson noted the importance of his role on the court and how he makes his presence felt on both sides of the court.

“Making sure I talk to them, talk to everybody, especially on defense just because I’ve been here for a while,” Watson said. “Making sure I bring as much energy as I can whether what’s on offensive rebounds, cutting, making a dunk or a steal. I just try and bring energy to the group.”

The Cyclones’ matchup with the Tigers is their final game before they head to Orlando to participate in the 2023 ESPN Events Invitational. They are one of 12 teams participating in the tournament and will take on VCU, Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

While Iowa State anticipates facing its first real set of challenges against teams at the EEI, Otzelberger stressed that they cannot overlook their matchup against Grambling, and game planning for VCU will be an emphasis following Sunday’s contest.

“We’ve had a few days to practice and maybe work on things but as we come into the game on Sunday all the focus is going to be on winning that game on Sunday and then turn the page from there,” Otzelberger said.

Watson echoed his coach’s thoughts on not overlooking the Tigers and emphasized the importance of playing their best, regardless of the opponent.

“Other teams have lost these so-called ‘buy games’ so anybody can lose,” Watson said. “We just gotta make sure we’re playing our best basketball every single day.”

The Cyclones will tip off against Grambling at noon Sunday for their final home game until Dec. 1. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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