Iowa State basketball's PKI success reinforces that 'there's not another formula' for success

AMES – If nothing else, Iowa State’s trip to Portland reinforced a pretty simple truth.

The Cyclones have a path to recreate the unexpected success of last season, but they’re going to have to do it the hard way.

“It’s doing all the things that are effort-based that are hard to do and easy to say,” said second-year coach T.J. Otzelberger. “We have to stay the course with it. We can’t waver. There’s not another formula for our group where we can have the success we can within this one.

“We have to stay committed to it, and that involves every single day doing the work. It involves every morning getting up and doing it again and again and again.”

The Cyclones (5-1) had a productive run through the prestigious Phil Knight Invitational last week, knocking off a pair of recent national champions in Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina before faltering in the Championship game to UConn, which moved up to No. 6 in the rankings this week.

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Iowa State, which hosts North Dakota on Wednesday (7 p.m.; ESPN+), did it with its harassing and intense defense alongside an offense that had its moments but showed its weaknesses. In short, it was exactly the same recipe the Cyclones deployed last year, when Otzelberger led them in a turnaround campaign that took them from 2-22 the year prior to 22 wins and a Sweet 16 in his first year at the helm.

“It was a pretty successful weekend for us,” said senior guard Caleb Grill. “No matter how you play on offense, if you bring it on the defensive end, you’ll be in every game. That just shows in those games that we can compete with anybody in the country when we keep it up on the defensive end.

“Everybody has embraced that role and opportunity that we have.”

For a roster with just four returners from last year, getting some early validation that the formula works is critical for Iowa State.

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“Our guys should have a lot of confidence,” Otzelberger said, “to beat those types of programs, especially when we have eight new guys and we’re just coming together, figuring things out.

“Successes create that higher degree of buy-in or that belief and that all the hard work they’re doing and hopefully that’s what happened with our guys by the experience we just had.”

While the good drastically outweighed the bad, Iowa State’s performances did little to dispel the notion that this team will be a work in progress offensively. Against the hounding defense of the Huskies, Iowa State shot just 46% inside the arc and 23% beyond it while committing a turnover on 19% of their possessions.

“It’s still early in the season,” said leading scorer Jaren Holmes. “We have some things we still have to figure out and that we have to get better at as a team.

“You don’t want to peak right now. You want to peak toward February, March. That’s the type of team we have.”

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In the interim, Iowa State will try to find the best way to wring production from its offense.

“Everybody is involved offensively,” Otzelberger said. “But how they’re involved game-to-game could be different. One game, it might be more screening and cutting, another game it might be using those screens.

“We’ve got to look at the strengths of our group and what we can do and what we can be great at.”

Ultimately, though, it will be the defense that carries Iowa State.

“Our brand of basketball is about toughness,” Otzelberger said. “It’s about physicality. It’s about effort.

“We believe best-on-best, our defense will stand up to anybody in the country.”

Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State basketball can recreate last year's blueprint for success