Iowa State to play to its identity in Sweet 16 bout with Miami


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

TJ Otzelberger attends a press conference at the United Center on March 24. 

James Powell

CHICAGO — The stage has been set for Iowa State men’s basketball.

Iowa State, who is seeded 11th in the Midwest Region, has reached its sixth Sweet 16 ever, as the team travels to Chicago to take on Miami on Friday on a stage that wasn’t expected to hold either team at this point in the tournament.

The Cyclones got here by defeating the No. 6 seed LSU Tigers and the No. 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers in the first two rounds in two hotly-contested, 40-minute games.

After a season filled with a blistering 12–0 start, a 3–9 start to conference play, a 7–11 finish in the Big 12 and playing one of their worst games of the season in the Big 12 Tournament, T.J. Otzelberger and his team find themselves dancing in the second weekend in his first season at the helm.

“We’ve been fortunate with the young men in our program embracing those work habits when we started practicing in June, and we’ve asked a lot of them,” Otzelberger said. “As the season has gone on we’ve certainly been tested… it’s flattering that we’re in the position we’re in and all the credit to our players for how they’ve worked every day.”

Otzelberger is just the third coach to lead his team to the Sweet 16 in his first year after taking over following a losing season. His team’s 20-win improvement is the best in school and Big 12 history, and second by a win to the best turnaround in NCAA history.

In their first two games of the tournament, their intense ball pressure to create turnovers has been paired nicely with a heroic individual effort to generate two quality wins. 

Against LSU, it was the hometown hero Tyrese Hunter who had 23 points and a game-sealing three late in the game to propel his team to victory. Then, Gabe Kalscheur took his turn against an old foe in Wisconsin as he locked down Johnny Davis and contributed a game-high 22 points.

Now, they turn their attention towards the Miami Hurricanes (25–10 overall, 14–5 ACC), an underdog themselves led by Jim Larrañaga, who knocked off No. 7 USC and No. 2 Auburn to get themselves to Chicago.

Miami is a guard-heavy, disciplined group who has given the ball away just seven times in the first two games of the tournament. The Hurricanes average just under 10 turnovers a game this season.

The Hurricanes are led in scoring by Kameron McGusty, who averages 17.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting. He is supplemented by a veteran group of wing players spear-headed by Charlie Moore, who averages 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals per contest this season.

For the Cyclones, they’ll look to impose their will on the defensive end, something they’ve done in their first two tournament games, forcing LSU and Wisconsin into an average of 18 turnovers each.

Iowa State leads the remaining 16 teams in scoring defense and turnovers forced, and it’s no surprise given its identity as the season wore on. The Cyclones want to turn teams over at an alarming rate and make that into their main source of offense.

“We’re a team that prides ourselves on being a very gritty, half-court defensive team that pressure the basketball and dictates what we want to do,” Otzelberger said.

“Each team has its strengths, and I’m sure that both of us will try and play to those strengths, the turnover margin will certainly be one that will have a substantial impact on who wins the game,” Otzelberger added.

The Cyclones have also adopted a physicality and toughness that was at times necessary as they ran through the rugged Big 12 conference. Part of the reason for their success in the tournament is their aggressive nature against non-conference foes who haven’t seen the types of defenses and schemes that the Big 12 features.

They’re 15–0 against non-Big 12 opponents, including wins over five tournament teams. Hunter believes that their style of play comes as a shock to opponents in the tournament, and it’s allowed them to be the aggressor that Otzelberger harped on during the Big 12 slate.

“I think that the Big 12 is one of the most dominant defensive leagues in the country, and that’s something that we showcase on a daily basis when we go out there against and play non-conference teams,” Hunter said Thursday.

Now, their next challenge is an ACC foe in Miami who ranks 18th in offense but 124th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Iowa State, for contrast, ranks fifth in defense but 160th in adjusted offensive efficiency.

This stark difference for both teams should make for an interesting battle of strengths as Iowa State is hoping to turn the Hurricanes over at a rate they aren’t comfortable in, while Miami is banking on their highly-touted offense to lead them to the Elite 8.

The game will tip-off at approximately 8:45 p.m. Friday from the United Center in Chicago. It will be televised on TBS.