Sports

Sports-wise, it's a great time to be in Iowa

A wide range of good stuff has just completed or is underway

Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar (88) scores a touchdown against Oregon during the Cyclones' Fiesta Bowl victory over
Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar (88) scores a touchdown against Oregon during the Cyclones’ Fiesta Bowl victory over the Ducks on Jan. 2 in Glendale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

There’s plenty of space elsewhere to carp about a virus, an insurrection, and the fact it’s January in the Midwest.

But right here, right now, let’s dwell on trivial matters that sports fans here in Iowa should be savoring.

The Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team takes a 4-1 Big Ten record and a 10-2 overall mark into its game against Minnesota on Sunday. It is ranked No. 5 in the nation, has the overwhelming favorite for National Player of the Year in Luka Garza.

The Hawkeyes have been ranked in the top 10 for the first seven weeks of the season, the first time an Iowa men’s team has done that since 1986-87.

From the I’ll-remind-you-of-this-if-I’m-right department, I think the Hawkeyes will take a 9-1 conference mark to Illinois when they clash on Jan. 29.

 The Iowa women’s team has one of the best college basketball stories in America. One of the umpteen rotten things about the pandemic is how people are being deprived going to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to watch Iowa freshman guard Caitlin Clark of West Des Moines.

We’re talking about a phenomenon here. Entering Saturday night’s game at Northwestern, Clark was fourth in the nation at 25.6 points per game and ninth in assists at 6.5 per contest. She’s the Big Ten leader in both, and also averages 6.6 rebounds.

And she is ... Just. Getting. Started.

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 Looking westward, the Drake men’s basketball team is 13-0. It has won all but one of those games by at least 10 points, and is fourth in the nation in average scoring margin at plus-24.0 points per game.

Alas, COVID-19 issues within the Bulldogs’ program have forced postponements of their next four games.

But 13-0? Anyone up for a Drake-Iowa game in the second round of the NCAA Tournament?

 Tyrese Haliburton left Iowa State after his sophomore season to enter the 2020 NBA Draft. He went 12th, to the Sacramento Kings after being projected in the top six or seven picks in most mock drafts.

Haliburton had 15 points and eight assists for Sacramento Friday in its game against Toronto. It was his fifth-straight game of at least 10 points. He averages 12.1 points and 5.1 assists, and he isn’t a starter.

Sacramento got very lucky.

 This will be one of the warmest offseason winters for college football fans in our state, feelings-wise.

Iowa State’s performance in the Fiesta Bowl was all you could want. The win over Pac-12 champion Oregon was dominant, and a showcase for a lot of Cyclone players and how they played during this season.

Every good team loses good players, but Iowa State isn’t losing many. Sunday, two-time first-team All-Big 12 safety Greg Eisworth announced he was staying. So did Charlie Kolar, a third-team All-America tight end the last two years.

That’s on top of first-team All-Big 12 quarterback Brock Purdy, first-team All-America running back Breece Hall, the entire linebackers group led by second-team All-American Mike Rose, first-team All-Big 12 defensive end Will McDonald, the whole offensive line, first-team All-Big 12 wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, tight end Chase Allen, a possible future All-American in safety Isheem Young ... whew!

Iowa, meanwhile, gets to spend the next eight months riding a six-game winning streak.

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It does so with the knowledge it has the best returning center in the nation in Tyler Linderbaum, a first-team All-Big Ten running back in Tyler Goodson, a potential future All-America tight end in Sam LaPorta, and a second-team All-Big Ten defensive end in Zach VanValkenburg, to name but a few.

Iowa and Iowa State each had a unanimous All-American in Hawkeye defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon and the Cyclones’ Hall. Uncommon, to say the least.

 Iowa’s wrestling team gets the chance to begin its quest to get the NCAA team championship it almost surely would have earned last year had the national tournament not been canceled because of the pandemic.

The last thing Hawkeyes opponents needed was Spencer Lee and his teammates even hungrier to get the program its first NCAA team title since 2010.

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

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