STANZ: Looking toward the immediate future of Iowa State basketball

Mar 17, 2023; Greensboro, NC, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach T. J. Otzelberger gestures during the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Friday marked the end of something.

It marked the end of Iowa State’s 2022-23 men’s basketball season. It marked the end of careers. It marked the end of the roller coaster.

Could this be the end for the grind-it-out style of play Iowa State has lived off the last two years, too?

That remains to be determined, but it would be hard to blame anyone who is wishing for the end of this ugly style of basketball after the Cyclones’ 59-41 loss to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa State shot just 23.3 percent from the field and 2-of-21 (9.5 percent) from 3-point range. The Cyclones were 5-of-29 from the field and 1-of-10 from deep in the second half.

It will live as one of the worst offensive performances in modern NCAA Tournament history.

“Those are shots that we take every day,” said Iowa State senior guard Jaren Holmes. “Shots that we make every day. Today, we just didn’t make them. It’s basketball. If there was a way to control the basketball, we definitely would. But it just didn’t happen today.”

There is not a whole lot more to unpack from this particular game. Iowa State couldn’t put the ball in the basket. It didn’t matter where the shot went up, it probably wasn’t going in on this day for Iowa State.

An already not-very-good offensive team picked a really bad day to play its absolute worst game of the season. A defensive team built on dictating the action to the opposing team had the game taken to them from the opening tip.

They reversed the fortunes for a while, but credit Pitt for digging Iowa State a hole so deep it couldn’t be climbed out of.

“When you put yourself in that big of a hole, and you put that much pressure on yourself to make shots, they just weren’t falling,” Holmes said. “We didn’t dictate the way we needed to and it put a lot of pressure on our offense. We’re a defensive team.”

How much longer will that defensive team mentality persist?

T.J. Otzelberger’s last two teams at South Dakota State ranked in the top-50 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom. They played at a top-100 pace in each of those seasons.

Otzelberger’s teams have played the way they have more out of necessity than desire, both at UNLV and in two years at Iowa State. The Cyclones are hopefully approaching a point where they’ll have the horses to not have to hope every game is played in the fifties and sixties.

As bad as Friday was, let’s not forget the bright future that awaits this Iowa State basketball program. The Cyclones will welcome the No. 7 high school recruiting class in the country into the program this summer.

Omaha Biliew will help to cushion the blow of losing key frontcourt pieces in Aljaz Kunc and Osun Osunniyi. Milan Momcilovic will instantly give Iowa State the type of bucket-getter and shooter the program’s been in need of for two years.

Jelani Hamilton and Kayden Fish might not be the immediate impact guys that Biliew and Momcilovic have a chance to be, but they’ll be foundational pieces key to keeping the Cyclones’ culture moving forward.

Tamin Lipsey will return for his sophomore season as Iowa State’s floor general with another summer of development (and jumper practicing) under his belt. Temple transfer Jeremiah Williams will also reenter the fold after missing this season with an Achilles injury.

Tre King and Robert Jones can be expected to return as the anchors of Iowa State’s frontcourt. King showed All-Big 12-type flashes down the stretch. Jones remains one of the most important cultural leaders on the Cyclones’ roster despite the noise from a vocal minority in the fanbase.

Demarion Watson will return on the wing with another summer of development and a quickly rising stock, especially defensively where he’s already shown the ability to make an instant impact.

Add in walk-on Conrad Hawley and that is already the most talented roster foundation T.J. Otzelberger and his staff have worked with since arriving back in Ames two years ago.

This is not expected to be another complete overhaul type of summer.

“It’s on the up and up,” Holmes said about the program. “I think this will be another hotspot for another transfer, because of the way Coach T.J. instills work and the way he puts his trust in his seniors is second to none. You think about it, this coaching staff changed this entire program around. There’s life back in Iowa State.”

The fact it won’t be a complete overhaul doesn’t mean there won’t be attrition, and there are two names on paper that seem like transfer portal possibilities.

Eli King played some for Iowa State down the stretch, but he seems like the kind of player who could benefit from dropping down a level to find playing time elsewhere. The same could be said for Hason Ward, who probably should have played more for Iowa State this season than he did.

Both of those guys should garner opportunities to find starring roles elsewhere. Think Tre Jackson or Tristan Enaruna and the success they had at Western Carolina and Cleveland State this season, respectively.

Could both guys be back? They certainly could. We’ll see.

My projection is that Iowa State will have anywhere from two to four spots to fill with impact transfers.

The Cyclones absolutely must take at least one proven shooter. They would preferably take at least two of them, and I’m not saying guys who are theoretically good shooters.

I’m saying guys who are proven 40 percent 3-point shooters already at the collegiate level. Anything else would be a disappointment when you consider the pieces this team already has in the fold.

Help on the wing, especially long and athletic help, would be welcomed. Watson has the potential to be a star in that role, but there needs to be a veteran presence in that position.

Think of a guy like Kansas’ Kevin McCullar, who transferred from Texas Tech and has made a massive impact on Bill Self’s team.

Iowa State still won’t have the NIL juice to play with the biggest players in that game, but there is more than enough here to make the Cyclones an attractive option to plenty of potential transfers.

Take it from someone who knows firsthand.

“Don’t pick it because of NIL,” Holmes said. “Pick it because of the work. Pick it because you want to become a better player, and you want to bet on yourself. That’s what I would say. If you’re money hungry and you want to be in a situation where you know, you can go and achieve those NIL deals, hey, go for it. If you think about Iowa, it’s not a big place for NIL deals. The work is here. The fans are here. The love of the game is here. There’s no better place than Hilton. There’s no better place to play basketball than at Iowa State.”

Friday marked the end of something for Holmes and every member of this 2022-23 Iowa State men’s basketball. It was the end for Gabe Kalscheur and Kunc, two of the program’s cornerstones over the last two seasons.

It could be the end of this grind-it-out style built to shorten games and lessen the impact of not having enough talent. The Cyclones are going to have enough talent to compete at a high level next season.

Success in the transfer portal should put them in a position to be right back here in the NCAA Tournament. Otzelberger and his staff have proven they’re capable of doing that year in and year-out.

So, while this might mark the end of some things.

Something else is only just beginning.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.