Powell: The standard has been raised


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State guard Tre Jackson smiles after Iowa State’s 73-53 win over Iowa on Dec. 9.

James Powell

AMES- The one good thing about going 2-22? There’s nowhere to go but up.

I suppose 1-23 is a possibility or even 0-24. But the chances of a replay of last season happening for this Cyclone men’s basketball team were dashed by Nov. 16. Not that anyone gave a 2-22 season a chance of happening again, but the standard was raised then after starting 3-0.

Then Iowa State traveled to Brooklyn and raised the standard of this program and season again. This time in the form of convincing, dominant wins against a talented yet struggling Memphis team and a Xavier squad currently sitting at No. 20 in the polls. The Cyclones were 6-0 and feeling good.

One more time, for good measure, they raised it again.

A road test against Creighton was passed. Then the rival Hawkeyes came to town, a team that had given them fits for three years — one last non-conference hump for T.J. Otzelberger to jump over and did he ever. 8-0, riding high with four games left before the rigor of Big 12 play commenced.

New year, new set of challenges. The Big 12 awaited, and then-No. 1 Baylor traveled to Ames to face-off against a top 10 Cyclone team. Who would’ve thought a team that looked hapless almost all of the prior season had gotten off to one of their hottest starts in school history?

The Cyclones fell to Baylor, but there remained a sense of belonging. Yes, they lost, but the sentiment from players and fans was that they weren’t exactly crushed about losing their perfect record.

They showed the world that they could hang around with the best of the best and do it by playing their way, making teams work for everything on defense, and harassing a team to no end with tenacious ball pressure.

Now, Iowa State sits at 14-4, with the 2-4 Big 12 record sticking out much more. One could argue the Cyclones played five of the best teams in the conference and played a team who could win the whole thing twice.

But there’s still a sense of belief — a strong one at that. And why shouldn’t there be?

What was once seen by some as a rag-tag team of transfers and a rookie head coach getting his first job in a high-major conference has turned into a team no one really wants to see on their schedule. Not because Iowa State will win every game, but because they’ll make life so difficult on any opponent that they’ll never want to play the Cyclones again.

This team surely had tournament aspirations. Most teams do. But those have shifted to expectations. Winning 50 percent of their remaining games and stealing a game or two in Kansas City will likely result in a trip to March Madness. That’s an idea most thought to be years away.

Part of the “most” that thought the rebuild had just begun were other voices in the Big 12. A unanimous choice for last place in the conference showed the Cyclones no one thought highly of them. In fact, they thought quite lowly, the lowest.

Now they’ve arrived. They aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. Everyone knows what Izaiah Brockington can do. Tyrese Hunter is still a freshman, but no team is game planning for him like he is one. And if Aljaz Kunc isn’t seen on his back after taking a charge, fans didn’t get their money’s worth that night.

With the raised standard comes new expectations. I’m sure each player on the team is sick of hearing or reading “2-22.” I can promise you, George Conditt, Tre Jackson and Jaden Walker, are especially tired of it. This isn’t the same team that posted that record, not even close.

These expectations are allowed to come with criticisms. It’s okay to not excuse multiple horrid shooting nights just because, “well, it’s better than watching last year’s team.” That may be valid, but this iteration of Cyclone basketball is aiming higher, and rightfully so.

This team hangs its hat on defense. And it’s been a lack of defensive intensity that has cost them at least one game; one could argue two. The games against Baylor and Kansas were just better teams beating Iowa State.

Iowa State likely won’t get blown out like they did in Lubbock again this season. If not because that’s just not how their games go, at least because that surely was not a fun game to be on the Iowa State sideline for.

What’s clear is that the remaining 12 games will each be “rock fights,” and it’ll be up to Brockington, Hunter, Kalscheur and the rest of the team to find a way to win more of them.

But no matter how the rest of the season goes, try to utter the “2-22” mantra less and replace it with honest evaluations of how this new-look, newly coached, habitual-based team performs given their current ceiling, not the ceiling of teams from years past.