Iowa State Cyclones guard Curtis Jones (5) looks for pass around Green Bay Phoenix guard David Douglas Jr. (15)during the first half at Hilton Coliseum on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.
AMES — The theme from the first week of the 2023-24 Iowa State men’s basketball season was a refreshing explosion of offense, which is a nice change of pace from the grind it out style we watched in Hilton Coliseum during the first two years of the T.J. Otzelberger era.
Iowa State averaged 93.5 points in its first two games in wins over Green Bay and Lindenwood.
However on Sunday, in an early noon tip vs. Idaho State of the Big Sky Conference, the shots weren’t falling as freely as the games prior. That’s where old reliable, Iowa State’s suffocating defense – also known as “Otzelball” – came in handy.
The Cyclones forced 24 turnovers, scored 24 points off of them and cruised to an 86-55 win – despite going just 4-of-13 from 3-point range.
“It is a big credit to TJ,” senior post Robert Jones said after the game. “He has our system in place really well. We bring that defensive mentality every game. It’s important because on days where the shot might not be falling, the defense is going to back us up. The defense travels.” — All of the sudden when you get a few stops, you get easy offense.”
This is undoubtedly the most talented roster Iowa State has fielded during the Otzelberger era. With that, one had to question if the defensive intensity could match the group of grinders from years one and two.
So far, so good.
We’ll learn more in the coming weeks as competition picks up, but the early returns look fantastic. Despite the obvious offensive upgrades, stifling defense remains this programs identity. Iowa State entered Sunday ranked No. 4 in KenPom.com‘s defensive efficiency ratings.
Iowa State has one more game against a low-major opponent (Grambling State next Sunday) before things ramp up over Thanksgiving. The Cyclones will play VCU on Thanksgiving Day, followed by either Boise State or Virginia Tech on Black Friday. No. 10 Florida Atlantic and No. 15 Texas A&M are on the other side of the bracket, which would present a great test for the Cyclones, should they make it to the championship game.
TRE KING: Senior post Tre King recorded a career-high of 16 points in the win, but left the game late in the second half with a leg injury.
“I’m not sure,” Otzelberger said when asked about it in postgame. “He was walking around int he locker room. I think it was one of those things to be safe. I’m not sure if it was a bruise or sprain of his ankle. We will get it looked at tonight but I just talked to him on the way out. We’ll see.”
CURTIS JONES: Buffalo transfer Curtis Jones was a bright spot on Sunday. The shooting guard shot 24 percent from the field in his first two games as a Cyclone. Jones played 28 minutes, went 5-for-11 and scored 14 in the win.
“The first two games I felt a little rushed,” Curtis Jones said. Watching film and going through practice, I have gotten reps every day. Today I knocked down some shots and it felt good.”
Otzelberger said that Curtis has a constant green light from the coaching staff when he enters the game.
“He is a prolific offensive player. He can really knock down shots,” Otzelberger said. “He has been sound with the basketball. He’s somebody who we need to get into a rhythm at all times, especially coming off the bench – a guy who averaged 15 a game last year at Buffalo. What I saw today was more him relaxing and shooting the ball. I still think he is thinking about it more than what we would like. We just want him to let it rip. We tell him that he’s like Steph Curry when he gets in there. Just keep coming off. Stay aggressive and hunt that shot. That really helps our offense. I thought he did a better job of that today but I k now he has a level above that we will see this season.
OTHERS: Keshon Gilbert matched King with 16 points for the Cyclones. Curtis Jones (14) and Milan Momcilovic (11) all scored in double figures for Iowa State. Point guard Tamin Lipsey had six points with five assists and four steals.
THE FIRST WEEK: I asked Otzelberger what he has learned bout his team in the first three games of the season.
“I would say that we have great focus, getting through that first week. You have three games that come at you pretty quickly. I felt like our guys focused. We’re a group with a lot of new guys and some younger guys who have never done this before. They had the ability to stay focused at practice and then in the games. It felt like we did a good job with that overall. From a lineup and combination standpoint, you know we have played a lot of guys. You learn maybe more like what lineups and combinations work better. I have really liked the Tamin and Keshon dynamic of having two guys who can get in the paint and make plays consistently. Those guys have done a great job of generating offense that way. Our front line guys, I am happy with how Rob has played. He has really stood out as a big positive. Hasan will continue to make his climb as well.”
FAMILIAR FACE: One of Idaho State’s assistant coaches had a familiar name. Evan Eustachy, the son of former Iowa State head coach Larry Eustachy, was on the bench for the Bengals. This is Evan’s first year as an assistant coach at Idaho State.