Finally, the college basketball season in Iowa begins!
You can have your Cancun Classic Challenges and ACC/Big Ten Meetings of Teams That Have No Real Shared History And Probably Never Will. Give me an Iowa State-Iowa or Northern Iowa-Iowa or ISU-UNI game.
Iowa State and Iowa hook up Friday night in Iowa City. They seem to be twin sons of different mothers in one regard: They are twice-beaten teams that have feasted on tomato cans and have been unspectacular otherwise.
ISU has had three games of note, and won one. It beat BYU at home after losing to Cincinnati and UNLV in Las Vegas. Since Cincinnati is ranked 11th and UNLV 21st, those are hardly paralyzing defeats for the Cyclones.
Iowa has had two games of note, and won neither. It lost to Wichita State in Cancun and to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Those are hardly paralyzing defeats for the Hawkeyes, either. Wichita State is ranked 24th, and Virginia Tech is just outside the Top 25. Both are unbeaten.
But now the season changes. Now we get a game between familiar opponents in an arena that will have the sound and buzz that only comes with games in which the fans and teams are fully invested.
Iowa State brings three elements that make it intriguing:
1. It rebounds with purpose. The Cyclones have a plus-11.6 rebound margin. That leads the Big 12 and was in sixth in the nation the last time I saw such statistics.
Even 6-foot-2 guard Tyrus McGee rebounds, to the tune of 4.9 per game. Junior forward Melvin Ejim leads the way with 9.3. Ejim plays hard.
2. It shoots the 3-pointer with aplomb. ISU averages 9.5 threes per contest. (Iowa averages 5.6). That puts the Cyclones in the top 10 in that statistic. Which helped ISU become 13th in the nation in scoring margin (82.5 points) as of Dec. 2.
"It's rare that you find a team with this kind of athletic power that shoots it that well," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday. "You just don't see that combination a lot. So they defend and they rebound and they've got quick guys who can drive it. But then they spread you out and make threes.
3. It has seniors. McGee, Will Clyburn (16.1 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game), and starting guards Chris Babb and Korie Lucious are seniors. So is much-used forward Anthony Booker.
It's not a perfect team. The Cyclones average 16 turnovers a game. While they have decent size, they don't have what you would call a top-shelf center. They do, however, block over five shots per game.
Though he sank five 3-pointers in his most recent game, Lucious has gotten off to a slow start this year with poor shooting and occasionally careless ballhandling. He is, however, a veteran who played in all sorts of big games in his three seasons at Michigan State.
This is a team that will take you apart if you let it. Iowa will almost certainly have to play well at both ends of the floor to beat the Cyclones. Whomever wins, this game will only help the RPI of both teams come March.