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Iowa State short on NCAA Tournament experience, but bolstered by optimism entering LSU game
Only 3 Cyclones have NCAA Tournament experience
AMES — George Conditt IV remembers each moment down to its minute details.
The Iowa State big man played four minutes in the Cyclones’ most recent NCAA tournament game, a 62-59 first-round loss to Ohio State in 2019. He grabbed one rebound and blocked one shot.
He is hungry for more minutes — and a better result — when 11th-seeded ISU (20-12) faces No. 6-seed LSU in Friday’s 6:20 p.m. first-round matchup in Milwaukee.
“The most vivid memory was just being able to play in that game,” said Conditt, the only current Cyclone to have played in the tournament while wearing an ISU jersey. “I had a block during that span and I was really young, so I was just taking it all in.
“But a big memory that I hold dear to me is like, man, the feeling that we had after that game. I don’t want to feel that. I want to make sure that feeling is long down the line.”
Conditt is one of three Cyclones with tournament experience. Penn State graduate transfer Izaiah Brockington played 14 minutes as a freshman for St. Bonaventure in the 2018 tournament, scoring five points in two games. Minnesota grad transfer Gabe Kalscheur played 66 minutes in two games as a freshman in the 2019 tournament, scoring 24 points in an upset win over Louisville in the first round.
So ISU’s players aren’t completely new to March Madness, but some have traveled circuitous paths to return to it.
“So when you look at experience, even the four (minutes) that Conditt played, or the 14 Brockington played in 2018, that’s a long time ago,” Cyclones first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Yet at the same time, what we did (Sunday) at practice is we had them explain what an awesome opportunity it is. It was neat to have Izaiah in front of our group — who’s waited four years to be back — and talk about the 14 minutes he played over two games, and how much he can remember plays from that. Hopefully our guys all took something from that, how impactful those minutes were.”
The message? Value each and every second. Especially for ISU, which didn’t come remotely close to crafting tournament-worthy resumes the two seasons that preceded this remarkable one.
“Every team you go against, you’ve got to believe you can beat them as well,” said Conditt, the Cyclones’ fourth all-time leading shot blocker. “Because why not?”
The Tigers (22-11) undoubtedly will be approaching the game the same way. They have a new head coach in Kevin Nickelberry, but will rely on the same players who helped churn out wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama in the regular season.
ISU and LSU are elite in turning teams over while struggling to possess the basketball at the same time. So the more poised and confident team should win.
In other words, simple execution will trump previous experience in the tournament. Always has, always will.
“I mean, we just approach it with optimism,” Brockington said. “We have a mindset that we’re going out there to be the aggressor. Go out there on the attack. Don’t have any nervousness or fear. Just go out there and play how we play.”