Iowa State’s ‘storybook with a helmet’ run continues with Friday’s Sweet 16 game with Miami | College Sports
ROB GRAY for the Journal
AMES, Iowa — Few expected Iowa State to crush Xavier on Thanksgiving Day in Brooklyn.
Fewer still saw the Cyclones as runaway winners two days later against a talented Memphis side.
But what ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla saw from the ISU nearly four months ago — and he was on the mic for those games — gave some early insight into how the most big turnaround in the program’s history could unfold in an unlikely way.
“It’s a storybook with a helmet,” Fraschilla said of the Cyclones’ spirited run, which puts them in Friday’s 8:45 p.m. NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game with Miami (Florida) at the United Center in Chicago. “There’s no one I’ve seen all season who has trained or played harder. And I think this team absolutely made the most of their talent. »
The No. 11-seeded Cyclones (22-12) face a tenth-seeded Hurricanes (25-10) team that also toppled the top seeds to advance to the Sweet 16.
But Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga led his team to three of its four all-time appearances in the tournament’s second weekend.
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ISU head coach TJ Otzelberger is the third coach in tournament history to lead a team to the Sweet 16 in his first year after taking the reins of a program that has posted a lost record – in this case, a dismal 2-22 mark – the previous season. .
So despite the stormy similarities in the teams’ nicknames, the storybook twists firmly favor the Cyclones, who were picked unanimously by Big 12 coaches to finish last in the league.
“Our guys have been the chip on your shoulder, the underdog, the group that’s been questioned,” said Otzelberger, who served as an ISU assistant or head coach for three of the program’s six Sweet 16 trips. . “It’s hard to be unanimously chosen last in your league. I don’t know how many times that happens – and we were definitely unanimous, so I don’t think there could be anyone who was more of an underdog, more of a chip on the shoulder, more to prove, more an us against the global mentality.
Ask the Cyclones. They have made teasing and slights the lifeblood of this season. Now they are one win away from reaching the Elite Eight for only the second time in the modern era.
“Everyone doubted us,” said senior big man George Conditt IV, the only Cyclone in the rotation who has spent four years in the program. “Let’s be serious, the media doubted us. Agreed? So we just have to go out there every time and prove the next skeptic wrong.
There are far fewer to challenge. The ISU is undefeated (15-0) outside of Big 12 play and leads all Sweet 16 teams in scoring defense, forced turnovers and field goal defense percentage.
This is where the helmet is, which the Cyclones wear proudly – and out of necessity.
“If we can go out there (without) any numbers by names, I feel like there would be no (any) upheavals contemplated,” said point guard Tyrese Hunter, who set new ISU credentials for assists (165) and steals (68). “Now it’s about matchups and going out there and playing hard.”
Fraschilla has always seen this mentality in the new look and the remarkably reloaded Cyclones. But the Sweet 16?
“The likelihood of that happening is mind-boggling,” Fraschilla said. “Until you watch the team every day in training and in games.”