AMES — They’re as skilled as they’ve ever been. They’re still committed to playing suffocating and disruptive defense. In short, the 2023-24 version of Iowa State men’s basketball enters its season-opener against Green Bay at 7 p.m. Monday in Hilton Coliseum poised to soar to new heights, but still tasked with proving itself on a nightly basis.
“Still want to pressure the basketball,” said the Cyclones’ third-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger, who guided his team to a Sweet Sixteen in his first season and an NCAA Tournament berth last season. “This team has more length and size, so our expectation and our standard is we do a better job of keeping the ball out of the paint, (and) when it gets into the paint, we use that length and athleticism, that physical play, to finish plays.”
Otzelberger’s teams will always be predicated on playing defense with such intensity that opponents become frustrated and ultimately flustered. He has big and experienced frontcourt players in Robert Jones, Hason Ward and Tre King to help in that regard, as well as quick and committed defenders in the backcourt such as returning starting point guard Tamin Lipsey, and a cadre of incoming transfers who can shine on both ends of the floor.
Lipsey has dramatically improved his 3-point shot in the offseason and if that growth becomes evident in games, the Cyclones are unlikely to suffer through the lengthy scoring droughts that have plagued them at times in the past two seasons.
“There’s just more excitement, really,” said Lipsey, who was honored as a member of the Big 12 All-Freshman team last season. “Just knowing that (the season-opener) is close. When you’re far out, months away, it seems so far away and the days feel the same. Now that we can see it and in the near future, it just brings a lot of excitement for us as a group.”
The Phoenix went 3-29 last season, so it’s unlikely they’ll present ISU with too many problems Monday night. But it’s still live game action — and the Cyclones feel they grew considerably during a pair of preseason scrimmages that included a matchup with Greg McDermott’s No. 8 Creighton team.
“You have those opportunities to learn more about your team, to learn what you’re doing well, to learn the things you need to improve upon, and that certainly has happened,” Otzelberger said. “We love playing teams, programs that we really respect like the two we played, because they’re able to do some things that expose things we need to get better at.”
Now that process begins anew in real games. ISU is deeper than it has ever been and one of its challenges hinges on determining how to parcel out minutes efficiently and productively — and Otzelberger’s proven in the past that nothing’s set in stone in that respect as the season progresses.
“There (are) certain things we’re committed to defensively, but (we) want to play to the strengths of our personnel,” Otzelberger said. “I think offensively, we’ve been more adaptive and, again, wanting to play to the strengths of that personnel, as well.”
So expect better shooting and more offensive options, but success for the Cyclones will continue to stem from the defensive side of the floor.
“We’re not gonna have as many bad shooting nights as we did last year,” King said. “So I can’t be more excited.”