116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Since the Big 4 Classic ended in 2019, the rivalry between Northern Iowa and Drake men’s basketball has intensified.
The Bulldogs’ emergence under Coach Darian DeVries and both programs’ recent success has created one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s most anticipated season series.
“I just think it’s great for the kids playing basketball in the state of Iowa,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “That’s what I’ve always liked about our team, Drake’s team — when we did play Iowa and Iowa State — when all four teams were playing each other I talked about that a lot. Now we’ve got the same thing going.
“Our games with Drake have been great games. They always mean something, but both teams have been pretty good here the last three or four years.”
Before the pandemic eliminated and reduced crowds last season, the proof of the rivalry’s intensification was at each program’s respective ticket office. Two seasons ago 6,497 attended at McLeod Center (capacity: 7,018) while a sellout crowd of 7,152 packed inside Knapp Center in Des Moines.
Headed into Saturday’s game, UNI’s athletics department has announced a sellout of its general admission seating with limited seats remaining in only six sections.
“I think it’s a great rivalry,” DeVries said. “You can always tell by the crowd sizes. It’s exciting for both teams to be able to play in those environments.”
This particular matchup is headlined by AJ Green’s return after missing last season with injury. Beyond Green, DeVries said the emergence of the Panthers’ underclassmen has made them more formidable.
“They can really score because they’ve got so many guys that can shoot it,” DeVries said. “They have multiple guys that can go get 30 (points) on top of AJ (Green) in a given night. I think that’s what makes them so difficult, their ability to stretch you and you just don’t know which guy on which night is going to have the hot hand.
“Those guys on those nights make ones that are really hard to guard.”
For the Panthers, the scouting report will look quite similar to the past couple seasons because Drake’s roster is largely the same. The Bulldogs’ addition of MVC freshman of the year candidate Tucker DeVries, though, will undoubtedly be a key matchup.
“Very experienced roster, so we’re very familiar with (them),” Jacobson said. “Obviously (Tucker) DeVries is off to a great start as a freshman as one of their new guys. Terrific team. They were picked to win the league for a reason.”
UNI tips off against the Bulldogs at 5 p.m. (ESPNU).