116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — It starts with Gabe Kalscheur. It then flows through Izaiah Brockington and every other Iowa State player who earns minutes on the floor.
It stifles. It suffocates. It’s what’s allowed the resurgent No. 11 Cyclones to start the season 13-1 and 1-1 in Big 12 play.
“We’re great defensively for two reasons and we need to continue to do those things,” said ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team faces Oklahoma (11-3, 1-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Norman, Okla. (ESPNU). “One is, Gabe Kalscheur’s an elite defender. Elite on the ball, elite off the ball. Takes charges, rotates effectively, oftentimes guards the other team’s best player and does a great job of doing so. Izaiah’s effort, energy, spirit, ball pressure, tenacity and rebounding energy helps make us a good defensive ballclub. So what you see is those two guys set the tone.”
The Cyclones have ascended to fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom — a trend that must continue to hold against the balanced Sooners and beyond.
Oklahoma trailed top-ranked Baylor by just five points with one minute remaining on Wednesday before falling to the Bears, 84-74, on the road.
The Sooners — like ISU — are forging a fresh identity under first-year head coach Porter Moser, and the early results are similarly promising.
“The challenge for a new coach is trying to get guys to play in a way that they can be the most successful as quickly as possible,” Otzelberger said. “Where he’s done a great job (with) is how they put their team together. (It’s) very similar to his teams at Loyola (Chicago), where with Groves — Tyler and Tanner both, they have skilled bigs they can play through. It allows them to try to pull your bigs away from the basket, so he’s playing to the strengths of his players offensively and he’s put in a defensive system. They do a really good job of keeping the ball out of the paint and not fouling, so he’s created a defensive system, as well, that also plays to their strengths.”
All of that means winning on the road in Norman will be extremely difficult, just like any other conference game in the coming several weeks.
Tanner Groves — a 6-10 transfer from Eastern Washington — leads the Sooners in scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounding (6.0). Point guard Jordan Goldwire averages 4.2 assists and 1.7 steals, and fellow guards Umoja Gibson and Elijah Harkness both score in the double-digits.
KenPom ranks Oklahoma fifth nationally in effective field-goal percentage, which means the Cyclones’ stringent defense will face another stress test for 40 minutes.
“Defense leads to offense,” ISU forward Aljaz Kunc said after Wednesday’s grinding 51-47 win over No. 25 Texas Tech in Ames. “If we can force turnovers, if we can force tough shots, long rebounds, we can go out and run and score easier buckets.”
Those were extremely hard to come by against the Red Raiders — and offense is where the Cyclones must make major strides in order to be a true upper-half contender in conference play.
In the meantime, ISU will rely on that bedrock defense led by Kalscheur and Brockington to pull it through difficult moments. Home or away. Night in, night out.
“The great thing about this league is you have a daunting challenge every night in front of you,” Otzelberger said.