T.J. Otzelberger puts a focus on improvement from the free throw line for 2023-’24 season

AMES – Iowa State ranked 320th in free throws made per game a season ago.

Obviously, that’s a number the Cyclones are eager to change.

Iowa State, under coach T.J. Otzelberger, has been focused on creating strong team chemistry to help make up for areas of concern. But now he’s convinced that the Cyclones can turn free-throw shooting into a strength rather than a weakness.

“We’ve told our guys, ‘We are going to be a great foul shooting team,'” Otzelberger said. “We’ve addressed it in recruiting. We’ve addressed it in our daily process and it’s something we feel will take a big step forward this season.”

The team’s 352 makes in 525 attempts from the line ranked dead last in the conference. That’s a 67 percent mark.

The Cyclones shot just 57 percent from the line while scoring 41 points in their NCAA Tournament loss to Pittsburgh last March, so it’s clear that struggles from the stripe have played a major role in terms of winning or losing.

“So many games in college basketball — and not just for us, but for everybody — you’ve got 8 or 10 games determined in the last couple minutes,” Otzelberger said. “Not that free throws aren’t important at the beginning of the game, but at the end of the game, they really matter.”

It has to be better, and the numbers say it will.

Each of Iowa State’s three transfer portal additions excelled at the line last season.

Jackson Paveletzke shot 84.2 percent from the line as a freshman at Wofford and only failed to score in double digits in five of the team’s 33 games.

“I’m just kind of carving out a role here and doing whatever the team needs me to,” Paveletzke said. “Obviously we all want to win games, and that’s our biggest goal, but just to kind of come in and make an instant impact right away is what I want to do.”

Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones each improved in their second years in college and neared the 80 percent mark.

Gilbert hit 77 percent at UNLV and Jones tallied 78 percent at Buffalo.

Throw in Milan Momcilovic from the recruiting class Iowa State is bringing in — his 87.9 percent clip during his final high school season tops the charts.

All four of them are right there with Iowa State’s best performer at the line last season in Tre King at 77.8 percent.

“It’s important to have guys that have done that, that have confidence in doing that,” Otzelberger said of bringing in some standout free throw shooters. “We feel like we’ve addressed that in recruiting. We’ve got those guys.”

The program directed players to shoot a certain number of free throws every day this summer in an effort to improve its process and preparation.

“You still can’t totally simulate what it’s like to be in a road game or at Hilton Coliseum with the stressors and things going on,” Otzelberger said.

That said, ‘better’ will go a long way here.

“When you’ve been in this league, you can’t really prepare for this conference unless you’re in it every day and you know what it takes,” Otzelberger said. “So, we have a much better idea of how we need to practice, what we need to do on a daily basis, and how that process – every single day – needs to be implemented.”