Cyclones set high bar for future ISU teams, but TJ Otzelberger and Tyrese Hunter just started

Iowa State’s Tyrese Hunter runs past Miami’s Jordan Miller in the Cyclones’ 70-56 loss in the NCAA Sweet 16 Men’s Basketball Tournament Friday night at the United Center in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

CHICAGO — The sting of a basketball season’s sudden end hurts no matter how or when it happens, and maybe late Friday night just wasn’t the time for the men’s team. Iowa State to congratulate each other for a year.

But nothing that happened in the Cyclones’ 70-56 NCAA Tournament loss to Miami on Friday night at the United Center diminished the fact that they had two shining moments in that tournament, and plenty of between them since the start of the season on November 9.

Rare is the team that maximizes its potential and more, but Iowa State did it. He went from being picked to finish last in the Big 12 to lasting through week two of the Big Dance.

This race was almost surely going to end before the Final Four, and it was probably going to end with a thud given the limitations of this team. That’s exactly what he did.

It was a thud, however, that you can quickly bounce back to and have reason to believe the good times have just begun for TJ Otzelberger’s program.

“Iowa State is a hell of a basketball team,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said after the game. “They play so hard and so well.”

They didn’t play so well on Friday, but as usual they played hard. The Cyclones couldn’t make any jump shots and turned the ball over 18 times. Miami didn’t cave against the ISU defense like LSU and Wisconsin did the previous weekend in Milwaukee. And that was it.

The aforementioned limitations were exposed. Iowa State lacks shooting, lacks offense. You can win two NCAA games without scoring 60 points like the Cyclones did, but that’s a tough way to go further in the tournament.

The Cyclones were uncomfortable against an equally good defense in Miami, and they’ve been uncomfortable on offense plenty of times this season. It wasn’t the typical big college team that won 22 times. There was no championship attack. How could he not have given the total reconstruction he hastily made?

Otzelberger will have scorers. His first season established that he could pull together a group of outsiders and play a ball great enough to knock out eight different teams that played in the NCAA Tournament.

Now Otzelberger has a returning playmaker in Tyrese Hunter who will be as good as almost anyone in the country at that position next season. Hunter is a gem, most likely a future NBA player.

“Tyrese is a gifted player,” Otzelberger said. “He’s certainly matured over the season, done a great job commanding our team, proved there’s no task too big for him even though he’s a freshman. Play with it poise and poise beyond his years.

Steve Prohm recruited Hunter from Wisconsin. Otzelberger kept Hunter engaged after replacing Prohm a year ago, and what a thing that was.

Now, Otzelberger is pursuing other talents. Taking a team that went 2-22 the previous year and turning them into overnight winners will open players’ eyes as the coach works on the transfer portal this spring and on the recruiting track this summer.

“We’re excited as things move forward with what we can do with this program,” Otzelberger said after Friday’s loss. “But tonight my full attention is going to be on these guys and being thankful and thankful for the way they behaved.”

The Sweet 16 is not a thing of any year in the vast majority of programs. Iowa State went to one under Fred Hoiberg in 2014, another under Prohm in 2016. Going to one in 2022 seemed pure fantasy as recently as Selection Sunday.

Then these Cyclones came onto the Milwaukee field and played hard.

Izaiah Brockington had a wonderful season for the Cyclones after joining Ames from Penn State. His career at the ISU will have been brief, but his impact has been tremendous.

“I just hope they can look back a few years from now when this program is still going strong,” Brockington said, “and see us as guys who got the ball rolling, kind of got it started.”

In fact, they set the bar high. But Otzelberger identified and helped sign great players when he was ISU assistant coach to Greg McDermott, Hoiberg and Prohm.

This, we have reason to believe, is just the beginning of good times for the program.

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