MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Talk about history aligning …
The last time Iowa State played an NCAA Tournament game in Milwaukee was 2017. Steve Prohm was in his second season as coach. A few days before his team was to face Nevada in the first round, guess whose name popped up as a candidate when LSU fired its coach.
There were rumblings that Prohm’s people talked to LSU’s people, when the Tigers reached out to gauge interest in moving from Ames to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
And please note: I didn’t say anything about an LSU offer. It was all about seeing if Iowa State’s coach should be among LSU’s official short list.
The response obviously was thanks-but-no-thanks, so fast forward to 2022, and Iowa State’s return to Milwaukee.
The Cyclones’ 6:20 p.m. Friday opponent is LSU, which ironically is looking for a head coach again after Will Wade was canned for being accused in a slew of serious NCAA infractions.
Just how’s the Cyclones’ T.J. Otzelberger fit into all this?
No one’s mentioning him to replace the embattled Wade, so don’t get that one started. But …
Who was in his first season as a head coach at South Dakota State, when Iowa State’s Prohm was being mentioned in the same sentence as LSU just days before that Cyclones-Nevada NCAA Tournament game in Milwaukee?
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Thomas John Otzelberger.
If that’s not a bit of history aligning before the Iowa State-LSU game, then nothing is. Let’s play the speculation game for a moment. What if …
- Prohm would have been offered and accepted the LSU position after Iowa State finished that 2017 season with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss against Purdue?
- Iowa State would have hired Otzelberger to be the new coach? I don’t know how this would have played into this, but university president Steve Leath left to become Auburn’s president around this time, too.
It certainly would have been a different path to eventually reach where the Cyclones are today.
That’s playing an NCAA Tournament game in Milwaukee, against an LSU team that’s looking for a new coach, but this time, with Otzelberger as the Cyclones’ coach and not being on anyone’s candidate list.
Let me repeat. Otzelberger isn’t on anyone’s candidate list. No one’s gauging his interest in anything. I’ll stop short of saying he’s an Iowa State lifer, but he certainly has an affection for the school where he was an assistant eight years, and where his wife, former Cyclones basketball star Alison Lacey, will be inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I knew instantly when I came to Iowa State how special this community was, this campus was, and the people are,” Otzelberger said at his introductory press conference. “As I’ve gone elsewhere, I’ve come to appreciate and understand that even more, especially now as a husband and a father and leading this historic program.”
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The general thought was that Otzelberger Year 1 would be an eight-win or so get-to-know-you process with his new team. Year 2 might include the words “Iowa State” and “NCAA Tournament” in the same sentence. Year 3, and there might be a reason for fans to tune into the Selection Sunday show
But after 32 games, the Cyclones matter in March again. This comment from athletics director Jamie Pollard is worth repeating:
“T.J. has done an amazing job during his first year as our head coach,” Pollard told The Register. “Although we could not have predicted the success on the court this year, his leadership skills and the culture he has established within our basketball program is exactly what we expected.
“The future of our basketball program is in great hands.”
The immediate future is about beating LSU, about a week after its coach and top assistant were fired. It’s about scoring, and running a credible offense against a top-five defense nationally.
“They press a lot like Memphis,” Otzelberger said, referring to an opponent the Cyclones beat this season. “They’ve got a lot of length and athleticism on the frontline. Defensively, when you drive the basketball, they collapse their defense trying to create turnovers.
“We’ve got to do a great job kicking the ball early, and find the open man from an offensive standpoint.”
Translated: Drive to the rim, pass to the perimeter — and hope three-point shots splash nets.
The immediate future also is about Iowa State’s solid defense being tested by 6-foot-8 Tari Eason, a first-team All-SEC forward who averages 16.9 points a game.
The Cyclones’ immediate future does not, however, include Otzelberger-to-LSU rumblings, like the last time Iowa State played an NCAA Tournament game in Milwaukee and Prohm was floated as an option there.
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“There’s nothing like walking out of that tunnel in Hilton Coliseum. … I got a little choked up, remembering all the memories, all the great times going through your mind — like past games and shots and Sweet Caroline and all those moments,” Otzelberger said after his first game as ISU’s head coach.
“I left Ames a couple times, and I’ve had some great experiences, but what that confirmed for me more than anything was my passion for Iowa State.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson embarked on his 50th year of writing sports for the Des Moines Register in December 2021. Reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism