Mar 17, 2022; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach T.J. Otzelberger answers questions during practice before the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State isn’t worried about playing a play-in winner, and you shouldn’t be either.
That was one of the biggest things I took away from T.J. Otzelberger’s meeting with the media after it was announced Iowa State would play the winner of a First Four match-up between Mississippi State and Pittsburgh on Friday in Greensboro.
Sure, teams come from the First Four to make a solid run all the time, but this time of year is more about Iowa State than anything its opponents do.
“I think, for us, it’s still far more about what we do and who we need to be,” Otzelberger said. “Getting back from Kansas City, getting some bodies rested, getting back to working on the things we work on. It’s going to be important. Regardless of who we play, obviously, it’s a unique dynamic when you don’t know, we’ll prepare, doing what we need to do, and get to that soon enough.”
This is one of the most refreshing realities of Iowa State’s status as a member of the best basketball conference in America.
There isn’t anything the Cyclones haven’t seen at this point in the year.
They’ve played teams that want to junk up the game the same way they do. They’ve played teams that want to get up and down the floor and put up a bunch of shots.
This team is ready for this moment. The Cyclones just need to be the best versions of themselves in order to make a return trip to Kansas City for their second-straight berth in the second weekend.
“We’ve had quick turnarounds as we’ve moved through the season,” Otzelberger said. “It’s going to be a lot more working on the things that we do and we need to be better at. When we learn who we play, we still have a day and a half to implement a game plan, if you will.”
*** Let’s dive deeper into Mississippi State and Pittsburgh with some help from our friend KenPom.com:
– No. 49 in overall adjusted efficiency
– No. 164 adjusted offensive efficiency
– No. 6 adjusted defensive efficiency
– No. 363 in team 3-point percentage
– No. 347 in team free throw percentage
– No. 257 in offensive turnover percentage
As you can see, Mississippi State fits much closer to Iowa State’s profile than most other teams around the country. Chris Jans’ team is here on the back of its defense and has had success in spite of its below-average to poor offense.
Iowa State and Mississippi State matching up in the second round will have the same vibe as an Iowa and Wisconsin football game. This would be the type of game where you’re living on the edge if you bet the under.
No. 77 in overall adjusted efficiency
No. 24 adjusted offensive efficiency
No. 142 adjusted defensive efficiency
No. 174 tempo
Pitt isn’t an elite shooting team, but their offensive talents across the board are all well above average, which combines for a top-25 offense in the country. The Panthers have four guys who have played more than 70 percent of the team’s minutes to this point in the year and three of them shoot better than 35 percent from 3-point range.
The trade-off is Pittsburgh has one of the worst defenses of any power conference program in the tournament. Only Missouri and Iowa are power league teams rated lower on the defensive metrics than Pittsburgh.
*** Both teams have a few common opponents with Iowa State…
Mississippi State split its season series with Missouri then beat TCU in overtime in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
North Carolina is Iowa State’s only common opponent with Pittsburgh. The Panthers swept their season series with the Tar Heels.
*** Jans, a Fairbank, Iowa native, who got his degree from Loras College in Dubuque, gave Otzelberger his first job in college at Chipola Junior College, and that Chipola connection draws in Iowa State’s director of basketball ops Micah Byars, too.
“Coach Jans, gave me my first opportunity to coach in college,” Otzelberger said. “He’s from Iowa. We still have a relationship and stay in touch. A lot of respect for him and how he runs a program.”
Jans is what you could call a college basketball lifer, and he’s had success at nearly every level of the game. He won a Division II junior college national title as the head coach at Kirkwood in 1998. He won a Division I junior college national title at Chipola in 2004. He was a member of the staff at Wichita State when the Shockers went to the Final Four in 2013 then finished the regular season undefeated in 2014.
That success in Wichita propelled Jans to the head coaching job at Bowling Green then New Mexico State, where he won four WAC titles in five years and qualified for three NCAA Tournaments, even winning a game in the dance last season.
*** A game against Pittsburgh would pit the Cyclones against Blake Hinson, who was a member of the program in Steve Prohm’s last season before parting ways with the program in the fall prior to T.J. Otzelberger’s first year at the helm.
This season, Hinson is tied for a team-high 15.6 points per game, is snagging 6.2 rebounds per game and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.
*** My initial run-through picking the bracket left me with a Final Four of Alabama, Purdue, Kansas and Texas.
The Longhorns are the one I’m least convinced about of those four, and I say that as a Big 12 guy who also picked them to win the Big 12 Tournament last week.
I do think there’s an element of Timmy Allen’s injury eliminating a cook from the kitchen. We all know Marcus Carr owns that kitchen anyway so the fewer cooks the better, perhaps.
*** There is no doubt in my mind that Purdue is Final Four good, but that is only because Zach Edey is one of the most unstoppable college players of my lifetime.
All the other guys on that team give me pause, but you only need a couple of them to show up for you on any given night. Such is life when you have a guy who is basically a guaranteed 30 points and 12 rebounds a night.
*** I have three Big 12 teams in my Elite Eight — the aforementioned Jayhawks and Longhorns along with Kansas State — and five of them in the Sweet 16, adding Iowa State and TCU.
Baylor is one Big 12 team I’d have on upset alert as they prepare to play UC-Santa Barbara in the first round. There was something about the Bears’ body language against Iowa State last week that really turned me off on the direction of that team.
I also have Drake advancing through the first two rounds and ending up in the Sweet 16 against Houston in Kansas City.
*** The folks in Kansas City are surely praying for a scenario in which Iowa State, Iowa and Drake are all playing in the Sweet 16 at the T-Mobile Center.
The entire city might be out of beer before the first game tips off.