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Shanks: The Cyclones, unlike previous seasons, are built for the back nine

T.J.+Otzelberger+struts+off+the+court+after+Iowa+State+beats+undefeated+Houston+57-53+at+Hilton+Coliseum+on+Jan.+9%2C+2023.
Tyler Coe
T.J. Otzelberger struts off the court after Iowa State beats undefeated Houston 57-53 at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 9, 2023.

I may be overreacting to Iowa State’s win over Texas, but outside of proving it can win games late on the road, the amount of depth showed a lot of promise for its final nine contests in Big 12 play.

Once again, after an offseason of turnover, head coach T.J. Otzelberger has built another March Madness-style team. But for the first time in his tenure at Iowa State, a bid in the dance is not the ceiling.

I know what a lot of fans may be thinking.

“Come on, the Cyclones escaped a Texas team that has not performed well this season at home by five points, come down to earth.”

But let’s look at history, more importantly, the history of Otzelberger’s time here.

Before Tuesday night’s win, Iowa State had not won in Austin, Texas, since Feb. 21, 2015. Sure, they had beaten the Longhorns at Hilton the last two seasons, but for whatever reason, no matter how stacked the Cyclones might have been, they could not crack it at the Moody Center.

What we saw Tuesday night was the amount of depth, experience and companionship that this Cyclone team has.

I like to look at bench guys like Jackson Paveletzke, Demarion Watson and Curtis Jones. The true definition of role players on this team that translate the same amount of fight on both sides of the court as anyone in the starting five.

Speaking of the starting five, even with Tamin Lipsey still getting back into rhythm after resting a game due to injury, it is as promising as it has ever been over the last three seasons.

Sure, you might see Robert Jones and Tre King miss a rebound here and there. Maybe Keshon Gilbert and Lipsey don’t take the best drives into the paint. Those things will happen.

But what’s different about this team compared to the last two seasons are the amount of makeup plays that each of those players has. Also, unlike in the 2021-22 season, this is not a “one-man show” like it was with Izaiah Brockington.

Each player has proven they can step up when their number is called, and they are each hyping one another up to make a play.

That type of togetherness is a main reason Iowa State kept itself from dropping its game against Texas after the Longhorns got out of their first-half shooting slump. It is also the reason that I look at the Cyclones’ second half of Big 12 play and see a lot of wins coming their way.

In their prior two seasons, the Cyclones have gone a combined 7-11 during their second half of Big 12 play, with seven of those games against ranked opponents which they had a 3-4 record against.

As of this column’s release, Iowa State is scheduled to play three ranked opponents in its last nine games, two of which are at home.

What I am saying here is that not only is this the best team Otzelberger has had here while at Iowa State, but its schedule is also on its side for a strong finish, and in college basketball, going into March hot sets you up for success.

Along with playing some cold teams over their final stretch, the Cyclones won’t have to worry too much about any extensive road trips like they just endured with a four-day long trip in Texas, where they played a pair of games during their stay.

Iowa State will not play back-to-back road games the rest of conference play and will host five of its last nine games.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s no cakewalk for the Cyclones. They’ll have to prove that they didn’t just win against Houston and Kansas State because of Hilton Magic, as both teams are eyeing revenge games on their home courts.

I’ll be realistic, they might drop one of those games, maybe even another one of their road games against UCF or Cincinnati.

But unlike past years, I don’t think they will let those losses snowball. In both of its last two seasons, Iowa State has had losing streaks of three and four during the later part of its Big 12 schedule.

Given that the Cyclones have yet to drop back-to-back conference games this season, I don’t think they will the rest of the year given that they will have at least one game at home every week for the remainder of the regular season.

I don’t want to go too far with this one, but the Cyclones are legit, that is for sure.

But Big 12 Conference champions? We will just have to see, but they have a lot on their side to do so.

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