A brand new menace rises in Big 12: Iowa State topples No. 1 UNC

PORTLAND, Oregon — If solely this had been March.

The story wouldn’t change, however the significance of this victory by this coach and participant would have been a nationwide headline.

As an alternative, Iowa State can file away its 70-65 win over No. 1 North Carolina on Friday within the Phil Knight Legacy semifinals as one to recollect.

T.J. Otzelberger, the unassuming head coach of Iowa State, practically broke down a number of instances in his postgame interview whereas describing what this win meant to him. His star participant on today after Thanksgiving, senior Caleb Grill, didn’t shed a tear however used the identical verbiage to explain the victory.

“I love Iowa State,” mentioned Otzelberger. “I want to build the program for the long haul. This is for life. I’m living my dream.”

A couple of minutes later within the hallway exterior the information convention, Grill, who scored 31 factors and buried seven 3s, mentioned: “It’s like a dream come true.”

And right here’s why: Iowa State reclaimed its spot on the nationwide school basketball scene a 12 months in the past underneath Otzelberger, the previous assistant at Iowa State underneath three completely different coaches — Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Steve Prohm — who bleeds Cyclone colours.

Otzelberger jumped on the likelihood to take this head teaching job after stints at South Dakota State (three seasons) and UNLV (two). He had recruited Grill to the Jackrabbits the place Grill initially signed. However when Otzelberger went to UNLV, Grill re-opened the recruitment and ended up at Iowa State taking part in for Prohm. That lasted one season earlier than he went to UNLV, solely to bounce again to Ames with Otzelberger final season.

“We go back a lot of years to his sophomore year in high school,” mentioned Otzelberger. “He hadn’t shot the ball well the first few games, but he stayed the course and was ready. He really does the work.

“We had been imagined to be at South Dakota State,” said Otzelberger about why he was emotional thinking about Grill’s contributions in this win. “I bought to interested by how essential Iowa State means to me, my household, my spouse performed there and my youngsters are rising up there. It’s moments like this that I take into consideration the gratitude and thankfulness.”

Grill is hardly All-Airport at only 6-3, 200 pounds. He’s not going to intimidate anyone during warmups. But he gets it done and picks his moments. He averaged 2.1, 9.1 and 6.4 points in his first three seasons. He’s only averaging 7.3 this season, and he was shooting 16.7% on 3s entering Friday’s game.

No matter. All he did was find the openings on the perimeter against the top-ranked Tar Heels to go 7-for-11 on 3s, and 11-for-15 overall.

Grill credited the 5:40 a.m. workouts in September, as well as the unity of a team that played in the Sweet 16 a year ago and has meshed transfers (Jaren Holmes via St. Bonaventure had 22 points) quite well already this season. He simply answered the call to bury shots when needed.

“I by no means grew up tremendous quick,’’ mentioned Grill. “I was smaller. I was always under the radar. I like being under the radar, being the hard worker, and being the glue guy for the team. That’s where I see myself. I just had a good night tonight.”

Iowa State nonetheless has a title recreation to play Sunday. Video games towards St. John’s and at Iowa are on faucet the primary week in December earlier than the Big 12 opens.

The Cyclones are going to proceed to be a participant within the Big 12 because of the depth, the defensive stinginess and the grit that they play with underneath Otzelberger’s watch.

“TJ is a special person,” mentioned Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard. “I have known him since we first met 17 years ago as a young assistant. During that time I have watched him grow professionally. However, he has never lost the unique ability to connect with people. He is so sincere and caring. That is why he connects so well with our players and fans. His emotion is real.”

As for North Carolina, there isn’t a cause to stress. The Tar Heels did play with hearth in an in depth win over Portland on Thursday. They usually had a number of probabilities to shut out Iowa State earlier than dropping leads. Certain, they must play Sunday and go to Indiana Wednesday. However the addition of Pete Nance (through Northwestern) to switch Brady Manek has confirmed to be fairly the discover.

“We lost the game in the last two minutes,” mentioned preseason all-American Armando Bacot of Carolina. “They made plays, we didn’t.”

The Tar Heels will drop from No. 1 on Monday, however they aren’t disappearing. That is a part of the method of a run to a different Ultimate 4.

“We’re getting everybody’s best shot,” mentioned Bacot. “Last year, I couldn’t tell you who was No. 1 at this time of the year. We will grow from it. There is a lot of basketball left to be played, and we will get better.

“We are able to’t conceal,” said Bacot. “We’re taking part in a big-time staff subsequent after which at Indiana in a hostile setting Wednesday. We simply have to remain collectively and grow to be extra of a staff.”

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Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Insanity 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.

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