AMES — Iowa State men's basketball was already entering the 2021-22 season in search of a new direction, with a new head coach and seven newcomers entering the fold after one of the worst seasons in the program's history.
But now, after Friday's announcement of redshirt freshman Xavier Foster no longer being on the Cyclones, T.J. Otzelberger not only has scrap his original plan for this season and steer the Cyclones toward success in his first year in Ames, he also has to keep the team from sinking — less than a month before the season begins.
So where do the they go from here? I don't know, but it's the biggest question facing this team and it's not even November yet. It's now up to the coaching staff, less than eight months into the job, to see if there's solutions to Foster's absence on this roster.
In the short term, it's next-man up for Iowa State, and thankfully veteran big-man George Conditt IV is back for his senior season in Ames. I would anticipate Foster's removal puts Conditt in the best window to potentially start at the five on this team.
He has the most experience on this roster playing at Iowa State and has stayed here long enough to earn an opportunity, albeit a terribly unfortunate one, to get big minutes for Otzelberger. And given this big off-the-court distraction, Iowa State will need someone like Conditt to be the big force he was his sophomore year in the 2019-20 season to keep things relatively afloat.
Outside of Conditt, it's free range on who could step into bigger roles with Foster out of the picture.
Ole Miss transfer and 2020 sit-out Blake Hinson has received praise from Otzelberger in the off-season for his ability to guard multiple positions, while also scoring with versatility.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward could be a four in Otzelberger's system but if the Cyclones wanted to play really small Hinson could find his way into crucial front-court minutes.
Could it be Denver transfer Robert Jones, who, like Conditt, stand the closest in height to the 7-foot Foster at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds on the roster? Iowa State needs its rebounding fixed, which Foster was seen as big contributor for, but with him gone Jones could be a name fixing for playing time.
Jones averaged five rebounds a game last season for the Pioneers.
No matter who the answer is for replacing Foster, Iowa State is left out to dry with this news. The Cyclones had visible energy brought by a new culture being built by Otzelberger. But now, this news undoubtedly leaves them shaken and searching for answers on and off the court.
The good news is there's still time to figure out the next steps. But in the immediate aftermath of Friday's news, Iowa State is left scrambling ahead of a season that already had dozens of questions worth asking.
Add another one to the list in the biggest way possible.