WILLIAMS: Hilton + this Iowa State team = the perfect pair – Cyclone Fanatic

WILLIAMS: Hilton + this Iowa State team = the perfect pair – Cyclone Fanatic
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Dec 9, 2021; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Aljaz Kunc (5) celebrates during their game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — I am in a text group with a couple of good friends who follow Iowa State basketball as closely as I do. We are an odd group but, like you, are damn passionate about the Cyclones. 

“Better watch out because Fran is going to light them on fire at halftime,” my paranoid buddy, Clint (we all have that one fear mongering friend), warned at the end of the first 20 with the Cyclones up 38-26. 

“Yeah but dude, I guarantee T.J. is laying into this team like they are down by 15,” was my response. 

I hate to brag, but I nailed it. 

Following a 73-53 beatdown of his arch-rival (the largest margin of victory every by an Iowa State team over the Hawkeyes), Otzelberger said that he wasn’t crazy about some defensive rotations he saw at the end of the first half – a bunch of basketball jargon that I won’t bore you with here (save that for Stansbury and Christopherson). 

Laymen’s terms: He got after their asses. 

The gritty Cyclones somehow found a way to ratchet up intensity even more to start the second period by going on an 18-5 run during the first eight minutes.

It didn’t stop there, which is precisely what I love most about this Cyclone basketball program that, after going 2-22 a year ago, could inexplicably be ranked in the top-10 before Christmas. 

Up by around 20 for most of the second half, there wasn’t a loose ball that this team didn’t dive for. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, I actually think Iowa State’s intensity grew down the stretch. 

This is where all of you enter the equation. 

Pardon my French (a hack blogger by nature, I am never going to win Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and I honestly do not care), but I know Iowa State fans better than most. You guys appreciate this shit. You freaking love this style of in-your-face, tough guy ball. 

To quote the great Stone Cole Steve Austin, “Gimme a hell yeah!”

As my dear friend Bill Fennelly likes to point out, Iowa State basketball fans are blue-collar. Play your asses off, be passionate, represent the front of the jersey and Iowa State fans will show up, support you and yell like hell. 

All those things were lacking for a long time. 

The crowd Thursday night (students lined up as far as the eye could see five hours before tipoff) was as relentless as the Cyclones were defensively. 

Hilton Coliseum and this style of basketball go together like booze and bad decisions after midnight. 

Grueling. In your face. Imposing. For 40 freaking minutes like your hair is on fire. 

That complete and total beatdown of the team out East was throwback Hilton. Old school. A mentor of Otzelberger’s, the great Tim Floyd, I guarantee was watching and grinning from ear-to-ear on Thursday night. 

I’ll take you behind the curtain to show you where it comes from. 

A few weeks ago in Brooklyn, former Cyclone great Scott Christopherson and I were watching shoot-around before Iowa State took on Memphis in the Preseason NIT championship game. 

“They play harder in shoot-around than we ever did in practice,” Christopherson said to me. 

This is coming from a dude who played with Melvin Ejim and Royce White. Scott played for Tom Crean (who is certified crazy), Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg. 

The secret sauce for this team is that these guys don’t know anything different. This is how they have been forced to play since the second they stepped on campus. It’s all about pride and team.

I have been very open about my relationship with Otzelberger. I know him quite well and want so badly for him to be a staple at Iowa State for years and years to come. It’s because I know how passionate he is about this place, which the longer I do this job, I find to be exceedingly rare. 

We all love Iowa State, but there aren’t that many outsiders who can match our passion. 

Otz isn’t an outsider. He grew up in this business here. His wife calls Iowa home and, together, they want to raise their children here. 

“It’s pretty special. It’s pretty cool. I love this place,” Otz said while choking up after the game. “I love being here. Being home with 14,500 of your family members and being on this journey together, I don’t know how I could be any luckier. We are just enjoying it every day.”

Do not think there is a second that goes by where that passion isn’t relayed to his players. 

There is a lot of basketball to analyze in the coming days and weeks before the Big 12 tips off on Jan. 1. 

We can save that for another time. 

I’m just going to take a day and appreciate the resurgence of Cyclone basketball and the best fans in America. 

Cheers to you, Cyclone Nation.