Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) lays up the ball during the second half against Grambling State in the NCAA men’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.
AMES — First, they made a big splash in Brooklyn. Then, they turned heads in Portland. Now Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger’s new-look Cyclones hope to make their winning wishes come true today through Sunday at the ESPN Events Invitational, which is nestled within the friendly confines of Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.
“Obviously, it’s our first time away from Hilton (Coliseum), so it’s going to be different, but we’re not going to treat it any different,” said ISU sophomore point guard Tamin Lipsey, who aims to help his team (4-0) vanquish VCS (3-1) at 4:30 p.m. today (ESPN2). “We’re going in with the same energy, the same mindset. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s gonna be a learning opportunity for all of us and I’m expecting big things.”
Posting big wins in Thanksgiving tournaments has been a hallmark of the Otzelberger era. His first team notched a pair of top-25 triumphs over Xavier and Memphis to win the NIT Season Tip-Off in the Big Apple, then last season’s Cyclones beat Villanova and then-No. 1 North Carolina in the 2022 Phil Knight Invitational before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut in the final.
So how can ISU pull off another series of resume-building victories?
“I’d say more than anything (by) just staying in the moment,” said Otzelberger, whose team’s first four wins this season came against teams ranked 251st or worse by KenPom. “(It’s about) our guys getting the appropriate rest and coming back to the practice court with a focus on what’s in front of us. You’re not going to play well by worrying about what’s coming at you down the road. You’re gonna play well by doing what you can in that moment to be the best player, the best teammate.”
Sure, that’s coach-speak, but it’s proven to be a successful formula for Otzelberger and many others. That doesn’t stop us from looking ahead, however. If the Cyclones get by the Rams, they’ll face either Virginia Tech or Boise State in Friday’s semifinal round with a potential top-20 matchup with either No. 12 Texas A&M or 19th-ranked Florida Atlantic looming in Sunday’s final.
But first things first. Otzelberger’s coach-speak contains a basic truth. Gazing toward the future causes one to lose focus on the here and now. So everything hinges on “the moment” — and in today’s case, that’s contending with a proud VCU program that, like Otzelberger’s, makes playing disruptive defense the core of its identity.
ISU’s been stellar in that respect, as usual. The Cyclones lead the nation in steal percentage, turnover percentage and opponent’s two-point field goal percentage, per KenPom. They rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency after finishing eighth and fifth, respectively, in that regard in Otzelberger’s first two seasons at the helm.
“Our guys are doing a good job of being locked in, which gives us great energy,” Otzelberger said. “And then offensively, we score the ball better when we attack in transition, or when we have the resolve to keep the ball on the move, get back into the paint that second time, so all those things are positive that we need to continue to focus on.”