Defense the key as resurgent Oklahoma, Iowa State prepare to meet
Iowa State's T.J. Otzelberger and Oklahoma's Porter Moser have already made big impacts in their first seasons as head coaches of their respective programs.
Saturday, the pair square off for the first time as head coaches when Otzelberger's No. 11 Cyclones take on Moser's Sooners in Norman, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's turnaround has been remarkable, as Moser retained just four scholarship players - three who were regulars in the rotation - from last season's team that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Sooners have yet to break into the rankings, but are 11-3 overall and 1-1 in Big 12 play entering Saturday's game.
The way Otzelberger has been able to turn the Cyclones around has been even more extraordinary.
First, Iowa State had further to go, after going 2-22 last season, 0-18 in conference play, and a combined 14-42 over the last two seasons combined.
The Cyclones lost all five of their top scorers from last year's team and returned three rotational players from last year's team, who averaged just 10.7 points per game combined.
Iowa State won its first 12 games of the season by an average of 17 points per game, with just two decided by fewer than 10 points.
The Cyclones are coming off a 51-47 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday that was their first conference win since late February 2020.
Now, Iowa State is looking to break an even longer losing streak.
The Cyclones haven't won a Big 12 road game since Feb. 16, 2019, dropping their last 21 such games.
Otzelberger and Moser have gone about their rebuilds in similar fashion - adding transfers in bunches and setting the tone on the defensive end.
In Wednesday's victory, Iowa State was just 3 of 19 from the floor in the second half, but the Cyclones' defense carried the way.
"We're here to guard people, and here to break people's spirits with our ball pressure and defensive energy, and keep turning them over," Otzelberger said. "If we do well at that, we get offense in transition, we are at our best.
"We're going to find a way every night, to be a tough, scrappy team and come away with whatever equation we need to win that game."
The Cyclones are in the top 10 in scoring defense in Division I, allowing just 56.9 points per game.
For the Sooners, Tuesday's 84-74 loss marked the start of a tough stretch where they'll play three consecutive games and five of six against teams currently ranked in the top 14.
While Oklahoma's defense has set the tone early, the Sooners are still looking to find their footing defensively in Big 12 play.
After holding teams to just 38.4% from the field and 27.5% from beyond the arc through their first 12 games, Oklahoma's first two Big 12 opponents have shot 49.5% from the floor and 44.4% on 3-pointers so far.
Moser said his team needed to get better defensively all around, but especially when 6-foot-10 Tanner Groves is off the floor and 6-foot-6 Jalen Hill slides over to play in the middle.
"We've got to get better defensively," Moser said. "I'm not as concerned offensively as I am defensively, that we had to guard better in that lineup."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 7, 2022