The Iowa State Cyclones are 9-2 after playing its pre-Big 12 schedule and are now preparing for its conference opener against Baylor on Dec. 31.
With that, we have five thoughts about the Cyclones at the break.
Don’t forget about our new feature for men’s basketball — Daily Fantasy Lineups. Every night a Big 12 team is part of the Draft Kings pool, I’ll provide my picks for the game, along with my complete lineup. The hope is that by Big 12 play I’m able to put together a full Big 12 lineup during conference games.
At the Moment
The Cyclones look a lot like last year, albeit not undefeated. In fact, the season took a turn at Thanksgiving, just like last season. The Cyclones went to the Phil Knight Tournament, beat Villanova, and then took down then No. 1 North Carolina before absorbing their first loss of the season to UConn, which is now knocking on the door of the No. 1 spot.
Iowa State also won its Big 12-BIG EAST Battle game with St. John’s but fell hard to Iowa in the Cy-Hawk. So Iowa carries a 1-1 record against ranked teams and a 3-2 record against Power 6 teams into Big 12 play. The day after the conclusion of its December schedule, Iowa State was No. 44 in KenPom, with a No. 16 defensive rating. That’s held steady since (47/15 as of Dec. 29).
Jaren Holmes has shown why Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger called him five minutes after his name dropped in the transfer portal (true story). Holmes is averaging 13.8 points per game and he’s one of six Cyclones averaging at least 20 minutes per game (10 are averaging at least 10 minutes per game).
Guard Caleb Grill has emerged as a consistent playmaker, too, averaging 10 points and leading the team in made 3-pointers. Gabe Kalscheur has gone from starter to the sixth man and given the Cyclones solid production (9.7 ppg). Forward Aljaz Kunc (8.5 ppg), forward Osun Osunnyi (8.4 ppg), and freshman Tamin Lipsey (6.1 ppg) round out the starting five, and it’s been consistent the first two months.
The debut of Tre King went well — he scored 11 off the bench in ISU’s last game — and he’ll get more run in Big 12 action, especially now that Kunc is out for the foreseeable future due to a finger injury suffered just before Big 12 play.
The Recruiting Class
The Cyclones put together one of the best recruiting classes in program history, the second full recruiting cycle under coach T.J. Otzelberger. The class was ranked No. 6 at the time of signing by 247Sports.com and featured a five-star player in Omaha Billew, a 6-foot-8 forward from Waukee, Iowa.
The other three players were Top 200 players nationally — forward Milan Momcilovic (No. 32), guard Jelani Hamilton (No. 130), and forward Kayden Fish (No. 175). The Cyclones have eight players listed as seniors on the roster, not including potential COVID waivers. So next year’s team stands to have a young core, with players like Billew and Momcilovic standing significant chances to play right away.
After the Iowa game that’s clear — the Cyclones can have problems scoring against high-level teams. Entering Big 12 play the Cyclones are averaging 70 points a game. Last season they averaged 65 points. Now, Big 12 play will have an impact and likely bring that average down a bit. But their two losses saw them score 53 against UConn and 56 against Iowa. Look at last year and the Cyclones lost games to Oklahoma State (36 points), Texas Tech (41), and Texas (41). The Cyclones’ defense is exactly where Otzelberger wants it, and that’s going to help, as it did a year ago. But Otz wants more consistent scoring in a league where every game will be a high-level game this season.
The Big Stretch
The first six games for Iowa State are key. The Cyclones open with Baylor on New Year’s Eve and face all four of the Big 12’s ranked teams in the first six games. After Baylor, the Cyclones travel to Oklahoma, then Fort Worth to see TCU, host Texas Tech, travel to Kansas, and then host Texas. That should set the tone for the kind of season we should expect from Iowa State.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard