Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa vs. UNI men's basketball: The end is nigh

Saturday's showdown in Des Moines is last in the series until ...?

Iowa's Nicholas Baer (51) drives around Northern Iowa's Spencer Haldeman (30) during their Hy-Vee Classic basketball game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on 12.17.16. Both will play for their teams Saturday in the same event. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa's Nicholas Baer (51) drives around Northern Iowa's Spencer Haldeman (30) during their Hy-Vee Classic basketball game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on 12.17.16. Both will play for their teams Saturday in the same event. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s annual men’s basketball game against either Northern Iowa or Drake is gone after Saturday and unlikely to return.

Back in June, it was announced the Hy-Vee Classic will end after its seventh-annual in-state twinbill Saturday at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena. Drake will play Iowa State at 3:30 p.m. Iowa and UNI tangle at 6.

With the Big Ten adding two games to its conference schedule starting this season, Iowa felt something had to give in its scheduling. With commitments to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Gavitt Games (Big East/Big Ten), and the intention of playing in a preseason tourney each year like this season’s 2K Empire Classic, it felt it had little room left in which to continue the in-state series.

The Hawkeyes will continue to play a few home games each year against some of Division I’s weakest programs. The Triad of Tame starts next Tuesday when Western Carolina comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, followed by Savannah State on Dec. 22 and Bryant on Dec. 29.

UNI wasn’t pleased by the June announcement, as you would expect. The Panthers’ game against Iowa Saturday will be their last until … who knows? Until they collide in the 2020 NCAA tournament in Spokane? The 2040 NCAA tourney in Qatar?

“I stated my preference, for a number of reasons, that the Big Four Classic would continue,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said Wednesday. “That’s still my preference. But after the decision was made, I moved on to something else.

“We’ve had a number of conversations from a scheduling standpoint on an almost daily basis.”

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As for resuming a series against UNI one day, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday “I don’t really think about it. Down the road, I wouldn’t say it’s not a possibility. I wouldn’t say no. I wouldn’t say yes.

“I have enjoyed the event. I have tremendous respect for Ben and his program. The players that he has are very good. It’s going to be a tough game for us. But we’ll just move on with whatever schedule we have.”

Iowa and UNI have split their last 14 meetings, dating to 2001. Even in its so-so seasons, UNI has never been Bryant or Savannah State.

Iowa’s last trip to Cedar Falls was an 80-60 loss to UNI at the McLeod Center in 2011. McCaffery got two technical fouls and was ejected with 4:47 left.

The first Hy-Vee Classic was played the next year as Iowa and Iowa State stopped playing both Drake and UNI every season, including playing one of the two on the road each year.

The merits of Iowa playing UNI or Drake depends on who you ask. There’s a “It’s good for the state, it’s often an interesting game,” crowd. There’s a “We have nothing to gain, a lot to lose” crowd. It’s not hard to figure out which opinions comes from which schools. Players from Iowa, however, like the games.

“I’ve always taken pride in being able to play other in-state teams, being an Iowa kid, something that I always had,” said Iowa senior forward Nicholas Baer of Bettendorf.

“I’m a little sad to see it go away, but I understand with 20 league games that changes had to be made.”

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“I’m just enjoying this last chance we have at Wells Fargo and making the most of it.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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