Iowa’s in-state rivalries now a doubleheader
For decades, Northern Iowa and Drake were guaranteed at least
one home and one road game a year against a Big Ten and Big 12
It was a luxury rarely afforded a Missouri Valley team – and an
opportunity for a resume booster that few mid-majors could match.
It’s now been reduced to a single game on a neutral floor in Iowa’s
The yearly home-and-home matchups the Panthers and Bulldogs had
with Iowa and Iowa State have been replaced by a doubleheader, the
Big Four Classic, on Saturday in Des Moines.
It’s a setup that clearly favors Iowa and Iowa State, who avoid
having to play road games in Des Moines and Cedar Falls. But a
December doubleheader could also prove to be a roaring success with
fans, so for now all four coaches are publicly expressing optimism
about the event.
The Hawkeyes (8-2) will face Northern Iowa (6-3) for the 43rd
time. The Cyclones (7-3) will play Drake for the 171st time, but
for the first time on a neutral floor.
”It’s going to be a great day for basketball. An opportunity
for all four programs to be in the same building. An opportunity
for two very good basketball games,” Northern Iowa coach Ben
Jacobson is right about that.
The Hawkeyes will be looking for a bit of payback after getting
blasted up in Cedar Falls last year.
Northern Iowa handed Iowa perhaps its ugliest loss under
third-year coach Fran McCaffery. The Panthers used a 21-2 run to
blow out the Hawkeyes 80-60, and McCaffery was so frustrated that
he got ejected.
Iowa looks like a much better team now than 12 months ago.
The Hawkeyes have won three in a row with a starting lineup that
includes three freshmen; center Adam Woodbury and guards Anthony
Clemmons and Mike Gesell.
Last Friday, Iowa blew past Iowa State – yes, that rivalry is
still alive – behind an increasingly balanced offense strengthened
by its added depth.
”It’s a completely different situation than we had before,
because there are so many ways we can go,” McCaffery said. ”Now
we’ve got guys that if they’re pressuring up over here, and we’ve
got guys over here taking shots. I have so many more things in my
mind that I can go to offensively to get a basket.”
Northern Iowa has played tough against top-notch competition
this season. The problem was that, up until last weekend, the
Panthers hadn’t actually beaten any of them.
Northern Iowa looked good in a tournament in the Bahamas in
November, playing No. 6 Louisville and Memphis within five points.
But the Panthers broke through with an overtime win at George Mason
last week and clearly won’t fear the Hawkeyes.
Northern Iowa and Iowa have split the last 12 meetings.
”They’ve got guys that come with it on a regular basis.
Anything short of that, you don’t have a chance against them. So
you have to not only match that level of intensity but do a better
job with it,” McCaffery said.
Drake (4-4) is the de facto home team, since it plays its home
games just a few miles away.
But the Bulldogs figure to have the longer odds than the
Drake did beat the Cyclones in Des Moines last season, but that
came in mid-November as Iowa State struggled to assimilate its slew
of transfers. The Cyclones, who figure to have a large contingent
of fans in Wells Fargo Arena as well, have beaten six opponents by
at least 20 points and lead the all-time series with Drake
The Iowa State-Drake game figures to be a big draw since both
teams are local. The Hawkeyes are a state-wide draw, and Northern
Iowa certainly has plenty of alumni scattered throughout greater
Tickets are reportedly close to being sold out. But even
McCaffery wondered this week if fans will stay for both games or
just watch the one their team is playing in.
That’s just one of a number of questions about this new setup,
which is scheduled to run through 2015.
”I think it’s good for the state,” Iowa State coach Fred
Hoiberg said. ”It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone
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