116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State senior big man George Conditt IV cleared his mind and released the past.
As the fog from three mercurial seasons lifted, the 6-foot-9 forward from Chicago found what he needed the most: A clean slate this season. A fresh start. A wholly new approach to the game — thanks in part to first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger’s habits-based system.
“It’s a fun game, but I kind of took a different look at it this year,” said Conditt, who was speaking about Thursday’s 8 p.m. (ESPN2) Cy-Hawk matchup between the No. 17 Cyclones and Hawkeyes as well as basketball in general. “I’m not trying to really focus in and lock in or change anything I’ve been doing. This year has been great to me. I’ve tried to do everything I can to the best of my ability and I’m just gonna go out there and do the same thing.”
He’s free. He’s not overthinking. He’s also more productive in the paint than he’s ever been — a trend that must continue if Iowa State (8-0) hopes to snap a three-game skid against the Hawkeyes (7-2, 0-2 Big Ten) before a sellout crown at Hilton Coliseum.
“My approach is the approach that T.J. instilled in everyone,” said Conditt, who is one of two ISU players to see the floor in last year’s blowout loss to Iowa. “We understand that the game can get chippy and we understand that they’re going to try to get in our heads, and they’re going to try to grab us — they’re going to try to do everything they want to do. We’ve just got to go out there and play our game. And if we play our game, it’ll show.”
Iowa leads the nation in turnover percentage at 10.9. The Hawkeyes play fast, efficient basketball, which correlates to an adjusted offense KenPom ranks fifth nationally.
The Cyclones counter with the fifth-best turnover percentage defense at 27.2, which helps fuel an uncharacteristically solid adjusted defense rating that’s slotted 40th-best in the country by KenPom.
So we’ve entered “something’s gotta give” territory.
“Certainly, that’s the battle, right?” Otzelberger said. “They’ve done a terrific job. They’re No. 1 in the country at turnover percentage and they’re averaging over 90 (points) a game, so that’s certainly their identity. At the same time, we’re confident in our identity, which has been ball pressure, turning people over, speeding people up, causing them to make decisions under duress, taking charges, rotating from the weak side. So my guess would be they’re going to come into the game and try to do what they do, and we’re going to come into the game trying to do what we do, and we’ll see how that all goes.”
Otzelberger’s new-look defense has faced just one top-40 offense (an 82-70 win over Xavier), but outside of a second-half lapse in a 19-point win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Cyclones have held steadfast to his principles.
They also haven’t faced a player as dynamic as Iowa’s Keegan Murray yet this season, so the Cyclones camped out in the film room to dissect his game.
“He knows how get to ‘A’ spots,” said Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington, who leads ISU in scoring (16.0 points), rebounding (7.5 boards) and has notched all three of his career double-doubles this season. “I feel like when he plays at his own pace and his own rhythm, he can draw fouls, he can make the shots that he wants to make. So it’s just watching him, studying his movements and working on taking it away.”
So is the program’s new mindset. Defense serves as the bedrock and offense flows from that intense effort. It’s a grit-based formula that doesn’t require harboring anything “extra” for a certain in-state rival — a trap Conditt admitted to falling into in Cy-Hawk games in the past.
“Yeah, I definitely have,” said Conditt, who’s averaging a career-best 1.4 assists and leads his the Cyclones with 22 offensive rebounds. “It’s the rivalry. I grew up around it. But I just thought this (approach) would be a lot better.”