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Moore: Who's the Big 12 bully now? It's Iowa State and its unflappable coach

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Moore: Who's the Big 12 bully now? It's Iowa State and its unflappable coach


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Iowa State’s players backpedaled on defense, coach T.J. Otzelberger — arms crossed, per usual — shouted, “Get a stop!” His team was up by 24 points with eight and a half minutes left.

Otzelberger’s pulse in Saturday’s Big 12 tournament final against the nation’s No. 1 team seemed as steady as his Cyclones. No nerves. No panic. Just relentless execution on the way to giving legendary coach Kelvin Sampson his worst loss in 10 seasons at Houston, 69-41.

For most of the season, Houston’s defense has been the bogeyman. Big men would catch the ball around the rim against the Cougars, just assume someone was coming to block their shot and miss bunnies. Perimeter players would have space and give a half-second of hesitation to allow Houston to get back in the play. It’s why the Cougars have had the best defensive metrics all season.

Until now.

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The Cyclones enter the NCAA Tournament with the best defense in the country, a healthy roster and looking like the Big 12 team most equipped to go on a run. Maybe they’ll even sneak onto the No. 1 line.

It will not matter where you send the Cyclones or what the challenge will be. Otzelberger’s players will be in line, following orders precisely with no egos and no agendas.

Over three days in Kansas City, the Cyclones had three different leading scorers — led by bigs Robert Jones (18) and Tre King (16) in the quarterfinals against Kansas State, then guard Keshon Gilbert (20) in the semis against Baylor and freshman Milan Momcilovic (18) in the finals.

“We’ve had great offensive balance, and it’s not necessarily because it’s by design,” Otzelberger said. “It’s just our guys really don’t care what the right play is. They just want to make it.”

“There’s a lot of people on this team that they would prefer to even get an assist as opposed to getting a bucket,” said Jones, who had just two points and didn’t seem to mind one bit.

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Playing against Houston’s suffocating pressure and ball-screen traps for the third time this season, the Iowa State coaches leaned into that unselfishness. They told their guards not to hold onto the ball too long, because that’s when the Cougars swallow you up. They needed to get it out quickly.

“We learned especially after the second game, when the ball stops moving for us, they’re able to get in and really pressure us and dictate what we’re doing,” said ISU assistant Nate Schmidt, who serves as one of the team’s offensive coordinators. “I think part of it for us is our defense. We pressure and dictate so much that we’ve been seeing it since June.”

A month ago in the loss at Houston, the Cyclones had 16 turnovers. This time around, Houston dictated nothing.

The Cyclones had only nine turnovers. The ball had eyes, always finding the open man.

Houston is usually flawless in knowing who is supposed to take the roller and who is zoning up away from the ball. It’s why the Cougars usually recover so quickly. But Iowa State’s off-ball screening and movement left the Cougars pointing fingers at one another and led to some easy buckets, where there was someone at the rim unmarked.

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And by not having live-ball turnovers, the Cyclones kept Houston out of transition and forced it to go against their defense.

With no time to really prep, Iowa State’s game plan was simple: keep the Cougars out of the paint, especially All-America guard Jamal Shead. Shead went 3-of-17 from the field, struggling to get into the teeth of the defense. A lot of his shots came late in the shot clock or were contested runners that felt forced.

“I didn’t think Jamal’s looks were that good because they were on the first side,” Sampson said. “You can’t play offensively like that. It’s why we’re good against a lot of teams. You have to play to the third side against good defensive teams and for whatever reason, we just didn’t have the patience to do that today.”

The Cyclones never relented, guarding with the same intensity and focus possession after possession after possession.

“We’re never gonna take the gas pedal off the gas,” sophomore point guard Tamin Lipsey said.

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It showed in Houston’s numbers. The Cougars had just four open catch-and-shoot jumpers, and three of those came off offensive rebounds. They went 15-of-56 from the field, finishing with their lowest efficiency in any game Sampson has coached at Houston.

It’s remarkable where this program is just three seasons after going winless in the Big 12. Otzelberger, formerly an assistant at Iowa State under Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg, took over his dream job and recreated his identity as a coach. He’d been known for his offense at South Dakota State. After two mostly mediocre years at UNLV, he came home to Iowa State, and immediately made sure defense was his calling card.

The Cyclones had top-10 defenses his first two years, but they needed to catch up offensively this season to climb out of the middle of the Big 12. Iowa State targeted players who could dribble, pass and shoot in recruiting, getting precisely that in transfers Gilbert and Curtis Jones, plus Momcilovic, a freshman.

And in just his third season, Otzelberger has his first Big 12 championship against a team that was supposed to be like looking in the mirror. Otzelberger should be viewed as one of the best young coaches in the sport, based on where Iowa State was and where it looks to be going. And this night was the crowning achievement of his career.

Of course, you’d hardly know it by watching him afterward. Even when his team posed on the stage postgame, his toothy smile looked forced.

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Where he’s comfortable is on that sideline, arms folded, watching his guys play for one another. Nothing flashy. Just a calculated beatdown.

(Photo: Jay Biggerstaff / Getty Images)





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Iowa

DCI investigates homicide in Harrison County

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DCI investigates homicide in Harrison County


April 22, 2024

HARRISON COUNTY, Iowa – At approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 21, 2024, the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of a vehicle rollover south of Modale, Iowa. When deputies arrived on scene, they contacted the driver of the rollover, identified as 22-year-old Sebastin O’Brien of Little Sioux, Iowa. O’Brien became combative with deputies, and after a short struggle, deputies placed O’Brien into custody.

Upon further investigation, it was learned the rollover vehicle did not belong to O’Brien. Harrison County deputies went to the residence of the vehicle’s registered owner and located the owner deceased inside the residence. The name of the deceased individual is being withheld pending notifications to family members.

As a result of evidence collected, O’Brien was charged with Murder in the 1st Degree and taken to the Harrison County Jail. Additional charges are pending.

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The criminal investigation is being conducted by the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and Iowa State Patrol. The deceased male was transported to the Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner in Ankeny where a forensic autopsy will be performed this week. 

The investigation is ongoing, and no other information will be released at this time. Note: A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Complaint and Affidavit

Photo of Sebastin O’Brien

ABOUT THE IOWA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

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The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) is the largest law enforcement agency in the state. It includes seven divisions and several bureaus, all working together with local, state, and federal government agencies and the private sector to keep Iowa a safe place by following our core values: leadership, integrity, professionalism, courtesy, service, and protection. Divisions within the Iowa DPS: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Iowa State Patrol, Iowa State Fire Marshal Division, Iowa Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center, Professional Development and Support Services Division, and Administrative Services Division. The Department of Public Safety is led by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Governor.

Iowa Department of Public Safety

215 E. 7th St.

Des Moines, IA 50319

https://dps.iowa.gov 

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TCU women’s basketball player Sydney Harris transferring to Iowa State

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TCU women’s basketball player Sydney Harris transferring to Iowa State


When Texas Christian women’s basketball player Sydney Harris entered the transfer portal a second time, she was hoping to hear from Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly and his staff. Harris was interested in the Cyclones the first time around but ended up committing to TCU. Still, she kept the Cyclones on her radar as she went looking for another school again.

“They were definitely the first people to reach out,” Harris said. “So, kind of right then and there, I was like, ‘Let’s get this rolling again.’”

Harris didn’t pass up the Cyclones this time around. The 6-foot-1 guard/forward committed Iowa State over the weekend. Harris, who has played at Central Michigan and most recently TCU, will stay in the Big 12 Conference and play for the Cyclones this upcoming season.

 “Coach Fenn has made Iowa State a huge powerhouse for women’s basketball,” Harris said. “It’s a phenomenal program and just the fact that he has interest in me and think I am capable of helping him continue to be great at the Big 12, Power 5 level, is just really awesome and that’s just kind of what I’m looking for.”

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Harris gives Iowa State some size and experience, something the Cyclones needed after losing Nyamer Diew and Jalynn Bristow to the transfer portal. Harris has appeared in 45 games between Central Michigan and TCU the last two seasons. During those two seasons, Harris averaged 14.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Her best season came as a freshman when made 29 starts and averaged 17.4 points per game while being named Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year at Central Michigan. Like Diew and Bristow, Harris brings a versatile skillset as someone that can play the three or the stretch four. Harris is a career 36% 3-point shooter that can also attack the hoop. She said both attributes were appealing to Fennelly.

“Coach Fenn was saying I have the greenlight for 3’s,” Harris said. “But I really liked, whenever we had the conversation about that, was how he recognized multiple plaice of my game that I feel like people kind of forget because I shoot the ball so well.”

Harris made 29 starts at Central Michigan. She missed all of the non-conference portion of the TCU schedule due to an ankle injury. Harris, who appeared in 16 TCU’s final 18 games, said she also dealt with some family issues. She added that after a season there, she needed a new fit.

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“When I was in the portal the last time, I was looking for things and I feel like I didn’t end up getting it again,” Harris said. “So, I think it was time to try and find a better place for me that I can fit in better and kind of flourish more.”

She hopes Iowa State can offer her that. Harris said the Cyclones were in her top three teams to transfer to when she left Central Michigan. She was even scheduled to visit Ames but didn’t end up taking that visit after ending up at TCU. Luckily for her, the Cyclones were still interested in her.

“I was hoping I would get a text from Coach Fenn,” Harris said.

Harris will be a junior the upcoming season. After missing so much time last season, she’s hoping to can get a waiver for another season of eligibility.

Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He’s the 2018, 2020 and 2023 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at tbirch@dmreg.com or 515-284-8468.

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As attention turns to portal, Iowa has already ‘done our due diligence’

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As attention turns to portal, Iowa has already ‘done our due diligence’


New Iowa offensive coordinator Tim Lester runs his team through drills during a Hawkeyes’ football spring practice on Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The transition from the spring practice season to the transfer portal season has not been much of a transition at all on Evashevski Drive.

Iowa football already has “done our due diligence” in the transfer portal, head coach Kirk Ferentz said moments after the Hawkeyes’ open practice on Saturday, as he and the coaching staff “do everything we can to help our team.”

“One nice thing about spring practice — it’s not like we have game prep, so there are hours outside of practice in our meetings where we can kind of watch that stuff,” Ferentz said.

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The Hawkeyes’ potential portal needs in the spring transfer cycle — players can enter from April 16-30 although they can commit any time — include quarterback and wide receiver.

The Hawkeyes are especially reliant at quarterback on Cade McNamara, who is coming off ACL surgery in 2023 and was last able to play a full season in 2021. Meanwhile they have only four upperclassmen at wide receiver (and that includes two walk-ons).

Offensive coordinator Tim Lester, while also expressing confidence in his quarterbacks and wide receivers, said in his news conference last week “you’re always looking” at the transfer portal.

“I don’t think anyone ever turns a blind eye to that at any position,” Lester said. “I think everyone has plans, and Coach (Ferentz) and Tyler (Barnes) will figure out which ones as we move on. But we’re always actively looking everywhere.”

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Some portal activity already is evident.

Iowa picked up a commitment on Saturday from North Dakota offensive lineman Cade Borud although he is not expected to be on scholarship. Missouri State wide receiver Raylen Sharpe, a third-team FCS All-American last year, announced on Sunday his plans to visit the Hawkeyes this week.

Iowa’s ability to add via the portal is hamstrung by its current scholarship situation. The Hawkeyes, as of midday Sunday, have 89 players on scholarship — four above the limit.

“I don’t anticipate us having to go out and get 10 guys or something like that,” Ferentz said. “Some people, that’s just kind of how they operate, so it’s a little bit different.”

How much attrition Iowa experiences in the next few days could dictate how much flexibility it has in the portal. Ferentz referenced longtime NFL coach Mike Tomlin’s famous line about needing “volunteers, not hostages” as he talked about attrition in the Iowa program.

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“You just don’t want guys on the team that aren’t fully invested and feeling good about things,” Ferentz said.

Iowa finished spring practices on Saturday, so this week will be an opportune time for anyone to enter the portal without missing out on any practice time. There could be more available talent as well for the same reason.

“There will probably be a new round of entries, more participants here this week in the portal because a lot of people are finishing up today,” Ferentz said, referencing the timeline of spring practices across the country.

Each portal cycle comes with some unpredictability. Last spring, Iowa did not lose any scholarship players to the portal. In the preceding winter transfer portal window, however, 10 scholarship players departed.

This winter, Iowa lost four scholarship players via the portal. This spring, wide receiver Jacob Bostick and offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor have entered the portal so far. (Proctor, who committed to Iowa in January, departed before participating in any practices.)

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“It’s hard to predict anything,” Ferentz said. “A couple of years ago, we had a bunch of guys leave in December. You just never know. … Because of the circumstances in college football right now — the portal, NIL and all that stuff — any charts that you might have had for the last 20 years, right now they’re not holding true.”

Ferentz is confident it is “going to work itself out,” though.

“I feel pretty good about that,” Ferentz said.

Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

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