Iowa State men's basketball defense sees new challenge with Iowa's attack ahead of Cy-Hawk game

AMES – It has already been a hugely successful month of non-conference play for Iowa State. The Cyclones have wins over three high-major programs, including the nation’s then-top-ranked team, and have established that the high-intensity defense that got them to the Sweet 16 last year is a blueprint for winning yet again.

Thursday, though, offers a chance to level up.

No. 20 Iowa State will put its defense up against No. 24 Iowa’s high-octane attack on the road at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (7 p.m.; FS1). The Cyclones (7-1) possess the 13th-best defense nationally while the Hawkeyes (6-2) boast the country’s sixth-best offense, both per

It makes this year’s version of the Cy-Hawk a true strength-on-strength battle.

“We build our defense, starting in the summer, that we’re confident when we go best on best, we believe in what we’re doing and our habits that we do every single day,” said Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger on Tuesday.

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Iowa State’s defense is constructed largely on its ability to turn opponents over. The Cyclones are tops nationally in forcing turnovers, creating them on 30% of their defensive possessions. Iowa, meanwhile, is the best in the country offensively, with just a 12.6% turnover rate.

“Nothing changes for us,” said Iowa State senior Jaz Kunc. “Ball pressure, no middle, be aggressive. Be physical.

“They can protect the ball, but our principle is ball pressure and we turn people over.”

Iowa State is drawing confidence from what it did in the NCAA Tournament a year ago against Iowa’s Big Ten foe Wisconsin, which came into its second-round matchup with Iowa State as one of the country’s best at protecting the ball. The Badgers coughed it up at twice their usual rate in a 54-49 loss to the Cyclones.

“We bring the physicality,” said Iowa State center Robert Jones. “We saw last year against Wisconsin that Big Ten and Big 12 basketball are completely different in terms of physicality.

“I don’t know how ready (Iowa is) going to be, but we’re going to be ready to definitely bring some physicality like we do to every team we play.”

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While Iowa State has answered many of the doubts about it that were present before the season, stopping a top-10 offense on the road presents a very different challenge than the Cyclones have faced this campaign.

“They run a fair amount of motion, so there’s a lot of off-ball screening where they’re continuing to pass the ball and guys are in different spots all the time,” Otzelberger said. “It’s more random than set plays. They do a good job of continuing to vary up their offense. They're not predictable and a lot of guys are in different spots.

"The ball pressure will be a big component for us so they can’t just stand and pass to guys, that they’re constantly under duress.”

If Iowa State’s defense is able to disrupt one of the country’s best offenses on the road, it would be further evidence that the Cyclones are going to be able to compete, both in the Big 12 and nationally, for a second-consecutive season, despite modest preseason expectations.

Iowa State’s Gabe Kalscheur (22) and Robert Jones defend against St. John’s Joel Soriano during Sunday’s game in Ames.
Iowa State’s Gabe Kalscheur (22) and Robert Jones defend against St. John’s Joel Soriano during Sunday’s game in Ames.

“Our guys, they know what our identity is,” Otzelberger said. “They’ve done it against some really good teams. Certainly doing it on the road takes a little more mental toughness to stay the course when things don’t go your way.

“We’re going to continue to put our trust there, and our guys have done a great job placing their trust and their confidence in that as well.”

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 defense will be tested by Iowa's up-tempo offense