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Shanks: The future is bright with Otzelberger and the Cyclones

Tyler Coe
Tamin Lipsey and T.J. Otzelberger during the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round against Illinois at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on Mar. 28, 2023.

The wound is still fresh, but it is time to reflect on Iowa State’s season and how it has set the program up for a promising next couple of years.

While the loss to Illinois in the Sweet 16 for the Cyclones will go down as a historical “what if” game, fans should not let it loom over their heads for too long. The Fighting Illini’s offense was too much for Iowa State to keep up with, which should come as no surprise.

An appearance in the Elite Eight would have been monumental, but I think it is safe to say the Cyclones may have struggled against UConn if they completed Thursday night’s comeback.

But where do head coach T.J. Otzelberger and his squad go from here?

Well, now it is time for arguably what Otzelberger is best at, improving his roster in the offseason.

In my opinion, Iowa State’s stock is still trending up, and this is just a reminder of the program changer that Otzelberger is. For the third year in a row, he took essentially an entirely different roster to the NCAA Tournament, and this was by far the best roster he has put together.

The good news is, barring any unexpected Cyclones entering the transfer portal, most of the key weapons should return. The real difference makers were Keshon Gilbert, Milan Momcilovic and Curtis Jones each offering a dynamic threat that has not really been seen on Otzelberger’s previous teams at Iowa State.

It is going to be tough to fill the loss of three veteran forwards with Tre King, Robert Jones and Hason Ward graduating, but Otzelberger and his staff have already gone to work. Iowa State has already landed Charlotte center Dishon Jackson, and I am sure they are not done seeking out big men for next year’s roster.

When looking at this year alone, if people thought Otzelberger had put Iowa State back on the map, he has now cemented the program as one that can turn players’ careers around.

Otzelberger has made it clear that if players want to win and maximize their potential, come to Iowa State.

Guys like Curtis Jones and Gilbert were guards with raw potential from mid-major schools who knew they could serve a more valuable role elsewhere. Robert Jones, King and Ward needed someone who believed in them.

Otzelberger gave each of them the opportunity to succeed at a higher level, and other players around the country who are searching for a new place to call home will not take that for granted.

In terms of recruiting, I still do not think we have seen the full potential of Momcilovic and fellow freshman Omaha Biliew. Momcilovic had his fair share of cold stretches, one of which came at the most crucial point in the season, but I think that is what being a freshman is all about.

Especially with the amount of veterans in the Big 12, this was realistically the best outcome for Momcilovic and his first year at Iowa State.

I also have a ton of respect for how Otzelberger handled having such a highly touted recruit in Biliew. It would have been really easy just to let Biliew eat up minutes because of his status as a recruit, but Otzelberger used this year to develop him, not feed him to the wolves.

Freshman Kayden Fish, along with redshirting freshmen JT Rock and Jelani Hamilton and the incoming recruits in the 2024 class hold their own possibilities of what impact they will have on next year’s team.

While there could be some transfers from the 2023 class, it is hard not to think about the untapped potential that the young guys hold for Iowa State.

The standard has been set for Otzelberger and the Cyclones, and I do not see it changing any time soon.

Although many saw this squad as Elite Eight hopefuls, as time went on I thought that was too much to ask for, especially from an Iowa State program that has been twice in the last 80 years.

So I ask college basketball fans to consider this season a large step in the right direction. This Cyclone team was far better than last season’s squad, and they will be bringing in more talent than out.

Twenty-nine wins, a Big 12 Tournament title and their second appearance in the Sweet 16 in three years. Do not be fooled, this season still has a lot to remember, and even more to be hopeful for.

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    Craig Clement | Mar 30, 2024 at 4:11 pm

    I agree. We have a lot to look forward to. But all we needed was 2 lay ups and we would have been elite 8.