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Under third-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State has shined in Thanksgiving-week tournaments.

The Cyclones (4-0) are hoping for more of the same when they open against VCU (3-1) on Thursday in the ESPN Events Invitational in Kissimmee, Fla.

In Otzelberger's first season with Iowa State in 2021-22, they knocked off No. 25 Xavier and No. 9 Memphis to win the NIT Season Tip-Off. Last year, the Cyclones took down Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina before losing to eventual national champion UConn in the Phil Knight Invitational final.

This time around, it will be the Rams standing in the way of another successful non-conference tournament run. For Otzelberger, the challenge given to his team will be to focus on the now and not its future opponents.

"I'd say more than anything, it will be about staying in the moment," Otzelberger said Sunday. "That involves our guys getting the appropriate rest and coming back to the practice court with a focus on what's in front of us. You're not going to play well by worrying about what's coming down the road."

"This isn't about going on a trip, it's not about three games, or about going to Disney. It's about getting mentally focused to have a great practice tomorrow and the next day to prepare for our opponent as that game comes on Thursday."

VCU heads to Florida on a three game winning streak after a season-opening upset loss to McNeese. Iowa State is the first true test for first-year head coach Ryan Odom, whose team is going up against a Cyclones defense that is allowing the fewest points per game in the nation at 45.8.

"They are one of the best defensive teams in the country," Odom said. "They have some guys back from last year's team that had a lot of success and were a formidable team in the Big 12. Everything kind of starts with their defense and they turn their defense into offense quickly."

Thursday's first-round matchup will be the third all-time between the schools, with the first two also coming at neutral sites.

--Field Level Media

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