Iowa State men's basketball has faced a great deal of roster turnover, both coaches and players, after a season that saw the Cyclones fail to produce a conference win.
Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger is entering his first year at the helm of the Iowa State program, and he has been charged with leading a roster that only features five players that saw action for Iowa State in the 2020 season.
The rest of the roster is mostly made up of transfers and redshirts such as Minnesota transfer Gabe Kalscheur, redshirt junior Blake Hinson and Caleb Grill, who transferred back with Otzelbeger from UNLV.
Otzelberger met with the media Tuesday and discussed his team's philosophies on the court and the playing time opportunities that await his players this season.
Physicality and aggressiveness key for 2021 season
After a season that saw the Cyclones go 2-22 overall and 0-18 in Big 12 play, there's plenty of room for improvement in every aspect. Physicality is one of the biggest.
One thing that Otzelberger has said he believes can help the team immediately is to out-physical and out-hustle their opponent during the game.
"More than anything, we want to dictate," Otzelberger said. "We want to impose our will on the game... we want [the players] to be turned up to play to the best of their ability and be as aggressive as they can."
This kind of mentality being brought to games will help with rebounding specifically, which is one of the areas Iowa State struggled in last season.
The Cyclones were out-rebounded by an average margin of 6.4 rebounds a game and grabbed more rebounds than their opponent in just three games last season. There was a game against Oklahoma State on Jan. 25 where they were out-rebounded by 30, only grabbing 19 rebounds.
Rebounding and imposing their will is something the team believes it can change the narrative on immediately. Otzelberger has a specific set of values he is preaching, and each one of them has to do with aggressiveness on the ball.
"For us we're preaching pressure the basketball, rebounding effort and energy and ball toughness, so that's something that's across the board for everybody," Otzelberger said.
In a conference as tough as the Big 12, having the national champions in Baylor and usual top-25 teams in Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia, the physicality and toughness that Otzelberger and his team plan on bringing will likely give them a better chance against those teams.
Otzelberger also talked about Gabe Kalscheur and Izaiah Brockington bringing a level of competitiveness he appreciates, in part because both players have consistently started for Big Ten teams. Brockington played consistent minutes for Penn State the last two years and Kalscheur started for Minnesota the last three.
Having as many transfers as the Cyclones do and a top-50 recruit in Tyrese Hunter, there are certainly opportunities aplenty for playing time, particularly at the guard position.
Xavier Foster's availability
One of the other big topics of conversation on Tuesday was how redshirt freshman Xavier Foster was looking in practice during the first official weeks. The only problem? Foster hasn't been available.
"He hasn't been available for practice yet due to some medical and health things that I probably can't discuss," Otzelberger said Tuesday.
Otzelberger was asked if the absence had anything to do with Foster's foot surgery back in February, but he didn't offer additional comment.
Foster averaged four points at 7.9 minutes per game in his time on the floor last year. Foster played in seven games last season.
Newly-added players compete for playing time
Last season, the primary ball-handler was Rasir Bolton, who has since transferred to Gonzaga. Jaden Walker, Javan Johnson and Tyler Harris also saw time at the guard position. Walker is the lone holdout from the players just mentioned, and he and junior Tre Jackson are the only two with prior Iowa State guard experience.
The team ushers in new faces, including former Cyclone Caleb Grill, aforementioned transfers Kalscheur and Brockington and freshman Tyrese Hunter.
Hunter is the lone true freshman on the roster but certainly figures to be in the mix for playing time after being one of the top-ranked players in the state of Wisconsin.
Otzelberger acknowledged Hunter's skills on the court and knows that he'll play a pivotal role on the team.
"He's a dynamic playmaker, he can be somebody that really pressures the basketball... I've seen progress from when he came to camp in the summer to now in terms of him understanding it, how hard he has to go," Otzelberger said about Hunter.
Otzelberger also mentioned the team was "open-minded" in terms of the starting point guard position.
Iowa State certainly has a strong history, particularly in recent years at the point guard position, with Monte Morris, Tyrese Haliburton and Bolton all playing for the Cyclones in the last five years.
This mindset is not unique to the point guard position, however. With so many new players suiting up for Iowa State, Otzelberger says there are plenty of opportunities to make an impact on this Iowa State team.
"We're really preaching to these guys that every day right now is an opportunity to earn it, so we had the eight weeks in the summer, we had 5 weeks of fall workouts, and now we're into week 2 of practice," Otzelberger said. "We want to continue to foster that competitive environment everyday."
With as much roster turnover as the Cyclones have, and Otzelberger mentioning multiple times how "open-minded" he is about starting lineups, it may be a while before we see lineups and rotations start to form for the first year of the Otzelberger era.