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Hawkeye Basketball: Five Questions on the Iowa State Cyclones

Can Iowa stop their two-game skid with their first win over a ranked opponent in 2021?

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- Boise State vs UNLV
The Cyclones have a new coach and a new look.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes have dropped back-to-back games after falling short in their comeback at Purdue last week and dropping a close one at home against Illinois on Monday. Now Iowa gets to face their second ranked opponent on the road in less than a week as they travel west to take on the #17 Iowa State Cyclones.

This group of Cyclones looks completely different from the team that went 2-22. They’ve got a new head coach, some new faces and a newfound affinity for defense. To get a better idea of what to expect as the Hawkeyes take on the Cyclones on Thursday night, we sat down with Levi Stevenson, editor for SB Nation’s Iowa State blog Wide Right Natty Light.

Here’s a look at our conversation.

BHGP: After an abysmal 2020 season, the Cyclones have a new coach and newfound success early in 2021. What’s been the biggest change on the court thus far with Otz’s group?

WRNL: Defensive effort and intensity. It’s incredible how much this team gives a shit about doing all the little things. After the Prohm era where everyone pretty much mailed it in the last two seasons, and the Hoiberg era that saw a ton of success, albeit with some lackadaisical defense, a team that defends hard, hustles for loose balls, and is extremely unselfish on offense is a breath of fresh air. It’s remarkable the changes you can see just from hiring the right guy for the right job, and Otz is the right guy for this job.

BHGP: Izaiah Brockington had a solid junior season averaging double figures, but he’s elevated that to a team-high 16 points per game this year, including some big-time scoring outbursts such as the 30 point performance against Xavier. How has he improved this year and how should opponents go about trying to slow him down?

WRNL: Isaiah Brockington has been a stellar addition to the lineup for a number of reasons. As you mentioned, he’s been a nice scoring punch. He’s a really smart veteran that takes good shots, and his outside shot is starting to find some rhythm. Beyond that, maybe the biggest contributions he’s made are on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards. Hawkeye fans may remember a Hoiberg-era player named Dustin Hogue, who was the classic “junkyard dog” Dennis Rodman-type that just played hard and a ton of tough plays. Brockington has taken up that role on this team to go along with his scoring, and it’s been infectious for the rest of the team.

BHGP: Outside of Brockington, Iowa State has two others averaging double figures. What are the other names to know and is there anyone you see as a potential X factor in this one?

WRNL: Make no mistake, this is not the offensive juggernaut we got used to for the better part of a decade, but there are a good handful of competent scoring threats that are capable of having an outburst on a given night. Gabe Kalscheur, Aljaz Kunc, Caleb Grill, Tyrese Hunter, and Tristan Enaruna have all had big games for the Cyclones so far this season. Nobody on the team is what you would call an elite shooting threat, but Brockington, Grill, and Kunc are all shooting above 45% percent from distance to start the season. Whether or not they can maintain that is a major question, but they’re encouraging numbers for sure.

Kalscheur and Hunter are probably the two most consistent scoring threats outside of Brockington that you’d want to keep your eye on. Kalscheur, a transfer from Minnesota, is sort of classing scoring wing that can do a little bit of everything, but isn’t necessarily elite at anything. Hunter is a super talented and athletic freshman point guard that’s still finding a consistent shot from outside, but is super quick on the drive and is not afraid to be physical at the rim. He’s got a chance to be really special.

BHGP: On the defensive side of the ball, the Cyclones are giving up just 60 points per game on the year and held both Memphis and Creighton under that mark. What’s been the key driver of that stout defense and what kind of looks should the Hawkeyes expect to see tonight?

WRNL: The TJ Otzelberger Cyclones are tough and play very physical defense. They aren’t necessarily superb at protecting the rim (though George Conditt is a good shot blocker on his own), but the guards regularly create havoc and force turnovers, to that extent that Iowa State currently sits at 6th in the country in defensive turnover rate, by forcing a turnover on 27.2% of possessions. The Cyclones also rank in the top-20 in defensive steal % and 3pt %. The Cyclones aren’t a particularly efficient offensive team as of yet (though that has been improving steadily), but the sheer volume of opportunities they create via turnovers helps keep their scoring at a solid pace.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. The DraftKings Sportsbook has this one at Iowa -5 with an over/under set at 151. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?

WRNL: This is a tough call. Playing this game in front of what will be an electric Hilton Coliseum is a big advantage for Iowa State, and their best attribute, defense, is something that doesn’t just go away at times like shooting can. That said, Iowa is extremely experienced, and they’re one of the best teams in college basketball at taking care of the ball. If Iowa State lets it turn into a track meet, the Hawks probably have the edge, as they’re the more efficient offensive team. However, if Iowa State can grind out some defensive possessions and force Iowa into some extra turnovers, I think they’ve got a good shot.

That crowd will be rocking, and a defensive team can feed off that energy. Give me the Cyclones, 73-68.

So there you have it, potentially a third straight loss for the Hawkeyes. Here’s hoping Iowa can right the ship and Jordan Bohannon gets to leave some more laundry in Ames.

Thanks again to Levi Stevenson of Wide Right Natty Light. You can follow Levi on Twitter @LeviRStev. The WRNL account is @WideRtNattyLt. Don’t tweet things about their coaches or they will block you.