116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CHICAGO — This simply couldn’t have happened in any other season.
You couldn’t go 2-22 in a college basketball season, overhaul your roster, then go 22-12 and win your way into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s tournament as Iowa State has done.
Before this season, no Division I men’s team had improved by more than 17 wins from one season to the next. The Cyclones are actually a win from tying the 21-win record held by Towson, which went from 4-14 last season to 25-9 this one.
Many coaches who took over downtrodden teams in the past brought in junior college transfers to immediately become more competitive. But going from two wins to 22 in a single bound?
“Frankly, no. I can’t see how.”
That’s the opinion of Eric Heft, an Iowa State basketball player from 1970 to 1974, and a color commentator on Cyclone radio broadcasts since 1979. He’ll work his third NCAA tourney Sweet 16 game since 2014 when ISU plays Miami Friday night in United Center.
“We kind of did this with Fred (Hoiberg),” Heft said, “but all the transfers had to sit a year.”
The NCAA changed its rule on transferring in April 2021. It freed athletes to transfer to a different school one time and play immediately instead of sitting out a season. Some people hate it. None of them are college athletes or their families.
“I think it’s great,” Heft said. “I’ll go back to Adam Haluska. Larry Eustachy sold him on ‘This is how we play, you’re going to fit in.’ Adam was here for a year and it wasn’t a fit for him. So he went to Iowa, and he had great success there.
“Sometimes when you’re a kid, you think you want something but you don’t really know what that is until you’re there.”
After leaving UNLV to take the Iowa State coaching job last spring, T.J. Otzelberger filled a lot of holes in the roster via the NCAA transfer portal.
Caleb Grill went from Iowa State to UNLV back to Iowa State.
They worked together to defeat NCAA tourney teams Memphis, Creighton, Iowa, Texas Tech, Texas, TCU, LSU and Wisconsin. It’s been remarkable, really.
“The biggest thing for us was T.J.’s evaluation of the transfers,” Heft said. “People weren’t interested in Gabe Kalscheur, probably. Izaiah was OK, but not coveted. T.J found guys that could mesh with him.”
“Mesh” is the operative word. It was the transfers selling Otzelberger as much as vice versa.
“Low-ego, high-producing, high-character guys that want to work,” is what the coach said he seeks from the portal.
“When we evaluate transfers,” Otzelberger said here Thursday, “we’re not somebody that sells them things that aren’t real. We tell them how hard it’s going to be, how demanding we will be every day, how we’re going to challenge them.
“I want to know why they’ve decided to transfer and understand what they’re looking for in this experience, but more importantly, how hard are they willing to work it?”
Without Brockington and his 17.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, Iowa State wouldn’t have approached the NCAA tournament bubble.
“Their lack of recent success hadn’t really scared me too much,” Brockington said, “because as far I was concerned, that was a whole different team.”
The four teams here for Friday’s Midwest Region semifinals took as many transfers as a Chicago “L” train stop. Providence has seven. Kansas has three, including Jalen Coleman-Lands from Iowa State and former Drake Bulldog Joseph Yesufu.
“College basketball is difficult,” Miami Coach Jim Larranaga said Thursday. “Building a program is extremely hard.”
Taking over a 2-22 team on March 18 of last year and getting it into a Sweet 16 on March 20 of this year? It was unthinkable until this season. Now? The Cyclones are a win from the Elite Eight.
Comments: (319) 398-8440; email@example.com