Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa should keep playing UNI in men's basketball, but will it?

Either Iowa wants to play Panthers (and Drake) or doesn't, period

Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun (11) celebrates after a Panthers 3-pointer during UNI's game against Iowa in Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena in 2014. The Panthers won, 56-44. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun (11) celebrates after a Panthers 3-pointer during UNI's game against Iowa in Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena in 2014. The Panthers won, 56-44. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

We’ll have to wait for a while to see if Iowa plays either Drake or Northern Iowa in men’s basketball after this year. It will be strange if the Hawkeyes don’t, and we’ve heard nothing to suggest they will.

The Hy-Vee (formerly Big Four) Classic will be defunct after this December, and the annual doubleheader pitting Iowa against either Drake or UNI and Iowa State against either Drake or UNI will die at the ripe old age of 7.

The lingering question in these parts is if the Hawkeyes will schedule future nonconference games against the Bulldogs or Panthers. One is hesitant to say yes. Iowa cites being committed to 22 games. Those are 20 Big Ten regular-season games, a game against an ACC team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a game against a Big East team in the Gavitt Games, though the Hawkeyes aren’t a participant in that this year. Plus, the Iowa-Iowa State series will go on indefinitely as it should.

That doesn’t leave as much wiggle room as once existed, but there is room. You know Iowa will never play either of the two Missouri Valley Conference teams from Iowa away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena liked it once did, but it can host one or even both if it wants.

If not, it says one thing: The Hawkeyes want to save dates for low-end teams among the 350-plus in Division I, teams like Bryant and Savannah State, both of whom are coming to Carver this season.

Those would be sure wins, record-padders. Games of no meaning or interest.

You’ll do yourself more good with the NCAA Tournament committee by playing a Missouri Valley team than bringing in a Chicago State or Alabama State. More importantly, you’re a Big Ten program. If you can’t withstand a challenge from the mid-majors in your own state, you lack something.

Yes, there is the risk of in-state embarrassment involved. Indiana lost at home last season to Indiana State and Fort Wayne. That was embarrassing. So what? Would beating Bryant and Alabama State have been better?

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Look at last season’s schedule, and you see dozens of games between Power Five conference teams and mid-majors from their own states. Purdue played Valparaiso. Wisconsin played Green Bay and Milwaukee. Maryland played Maryland Baltimore County, which looks incredibly brave in hindsight given what UMBC did to Virginia in the NCAA tourney.

Colorado played Northern Colorado, Denver, Air Force and Colorado State. I’d bet there was more interest in those in-state games than there would have been had the Buffaloes played Mississippi, Mississippi State, Mississippi Valley State and Maine.

Gonzaga whomped Washington last season, 97-70. It was the Zags’ first game at Washington in 12 years. It was the Huskies’ first nonconference home sellout in seven years.

If you’re a Washington fan, you didn’t say “We should never play Gonzaga again. That was humiliating.” You say “We need to get better so we can beat those guys.”

In 2014, UNI beat Iowa in Des Moines, 56-44. The loss didn’t crush the Hawkeyes. Both teams finished the season on Sunday of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in Seattle.

Iowa can come up with all sorts of excuses for not playing UNI after this year. But if the Hawkeyes were to schedule the Panthers every year, they wouldn’t have to explain why to anyone.

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