Notebook: Cyclones recap busy weekend ahead of Sweet 16


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State forward George Conditt IV holds the basketball as a play develops during the Cyclones’ 72–41 loss to Texas Tech at the 2022 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship.

James Powell

After two upset victories against LSU and Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Cyclone men’s basketball has punched their ticket to the Sweet 16.

It’s the sixth appearance for Iowa State in school history, the first since 2016, and makes T.J. Otzelberger’s squad the first ever to have as many NCAA tournament wins in one season as they did total wins the previous season.

Otzelberger and his players discussed what was behind their unprecedented run, including some extra sources of motivation for both team and player and the many benefits of being close to home.

Motivation comes in waves for Cyclones

It surely wasn’t difficult for coaches, players, fans and even the media to write off the Cyclones after their 2–22 season.

A new coach, overhauled roster and a difficult conference made for a treacherous, and perhaps lengthy, journey back to relevance for Iowa State.

From the Cyclones being picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll to being one of the 16 teams left in college basketball with a chance at a national championship, Otzelberger and his players have obliterated the anticipated timeline.

The naysayers have mostly gone quiet, but the opposite has happened for Otzelberger and his players. They haven’t forgotten the assumed position of this team in the preseason, and now they can use it as continued motivation as their Cinderella run continues.

“It’s hard to be unanimously picked last in your league I would think,” Otzelberger said to the media Tuesday. “I don’t know how often that happens and we were definitely unanimous.”

Otzelberger is referring specifically to the coach’s poll released at the beginning of the season.

George Conditt, one of only three rotation guys that were a part of the 2–22 season, isn’t just concerned about the poll. He knows it spread further than that.

“Everyone doubted us,” Conditt said. “Let’s be serious, the media doubted us. You just gotta go out there each time and prove the next doubter wrong.”

“There’s no defending it,” he added. “New coach, new team, new staff, everything’s new… you’ve gotta give us a clean slate.”

Cyclones trade homecomings

In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it was Otzelberger and Tyrese Hunter playing in their home state of Wisconsin, just a drive away from where they both got their starts in basketball.

Hunter had family at both games, and Otzelberger added that he had coaches from all levels come and support him and the team during their magical run in Milwaukee.

“For me, what was really neat was to have high school coaches, college coaches, grade school coaches there, guys who have impacted me and made a difference in my life,” Otzelberger said. “Those are the ones that really matter.”

As for Hunter, he won a state championship a matter of minutes away from Fiserv Forum when he played in Racine, Wis. He had lots of family and friends in attendance for the first two rounds but said he didn’t allow it to become a distraction by limiting the number of people he got tickets for.

“I’ve got a pretty small circle,” Hunter said. “Picking my tickets wasn’t that hard for me, just picking people I’m immediate with, I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters and a lot of my immediate family so it wasn’t really a distraction for me.”

“I just made sure I got the people I love to watch me and then I just blocked out all of the distractions,” Hunter added.

Now, the hometown hero becomes Conditt, who hails from Chicago, the site of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in the Midwest Region.

It can mean a lot to play in arenas you grew up seeing your heroes play in and be able to have everyone that helped you grow as a player see you on the biggest college stage. With Conditt going through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with Iowa State in his four years, there’s also an added sense of culmination taking place in the United Center Friday.

As for dolling out tickets, Conditt already has plans for those who mean the most to him to come and support him in his hometown.

“Tickets are hard to come by right now, but my family’s making it work,” Conditt said. “Family first, and then I’ll have my girlfriend there, she’s been there for every game.”