Tomorrow night will mark an event that hasn’t occurred in 27 years. A match-up that has had an entire state buzzing with anticipation for weeks. A game that has gone beyond local and regional coverage and drawn the attention of the national media.
On Friday December 13th at 8:30 PM central time, the Iowa basketball team will venture into the hostile confines of Hilton Coliseum in Ames, IA to take on the rival Iowa State Cyclones.
When the No. 23 ranked Hawkeyes and the No. 17 Cyclones take the floor it will mark the first time in nearly three decades that the two rivals have met while both in the top 25. As if the gap between such high-profile match-ups wasn’t enough, the last time the two teams met as ranked opponents in 1987, the game ended in a thrilling 102-100 overtime victory by Iowa State.
For someone who has been an Iowa resident their entire life (albeit for a relatively short amount of time), there is simply not a game between these two schools I can remember that has come remotely close to the build-up and excitement that has preceded this one.
While there are four Division 1 basketball programs in the state, these two are by far the largest and most recognizable. As cliché as it may sound, the state of Iowa has been divided by loyalties pertaining to this match-up ever since its magnitude started to become recognizable weeks ago. To be clear, these two institutions have never been particularly friendly towards each other when it comes to athletics, but this single game has increased the vitriol and trash talk tenfold among the respective fan bases.
To their credit both the Hawkeye and Cyclone squads have refrained from any pre-game banter that could create even an ounce of extra motivation for the opposing team. That is not to say however, that the significance of this event is being lost on any of the players or coaches.
Both teams recognize that the build-up surrounding Friday night’s contest is different than that of recent years. In fact, both coaches have acknowledged that this game is just as big for the state as a whole as it for the win-loss column. The top 25 showdown provides the opportunity for basketball in Iowa to be exposed to a national audience, and could certainly be used as a recruiting tool to attract attention to each of the universities involved.
Moving away from the historical significance, rivalry, fan bases, etc., the game itself sets up to be a beauty.
While many people might associate basketball in lesser populated states like Iowa with being a slowed down, grind-it-out type style, these two teams could not be further from that false perception. Anyone expecting to see a game characterized by deliberate pace and low scoring will be quite surprised to say the least.
The Cyclones (7-0) are unique in that nearly six players average double figures in scoring, totaling a mark of 91.7ppg as a team that leads the nation. Coach Fred Hoiberg is renowned for his up-tempo style of play, and constantly urges his team to make the extra pass and shoot plenty of 3′s.
Not only does his team rank second nationally in assists, but the generally undersized Cyclones are also fourth in rebounds pulled in per contest. Add these statistics to the more than advantageous home court arena that is Hilton Coliseum, and you have a dangerous team that is capable of challenging for a Big 12 title against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State.
Taking a look at the Hawkeyes (10-1), the unfamiliar fan will find themselves staring at possibly the most unique team in college basketball.
The Iowa squad has 10 players who are on the floor for 15+ minutes on a regular basis. Not only that, but the Hawkeyes possess size and length up and down their entire two-deep lineup. The two primary point guards in Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons each stand 6-1, but the other eight contributors are no less than 6-6 apiece.
All ten Hawkeyes are currently scoring 4.9ppg or above, combining to put up the sixth most points per game in the country at nearly 90 a night. Unwilling to secede any large statistical advantage to the Cyclones, Iowa is also in the top 10 in rebounds and assists per game nationally, ranking fifth and tenth respectively.
The Hawkeyes rely on their superior depth to wear down opponents, who are often overwhelmed by the waves of skilled and lengthy players that head coach Fran McCaffery continually shuffles into the game. The Iowa bench is averaging 42.3ppg out of the team’s average total of 89.5 while also grabbing 24.9 rebounds and dishing out 6.9 assists per contest. To put these astounding numbers into context, the starters are currently combining for 47.2 points, 21 rebounds, and 10.6 assists per game.
Balance, length, and unselfishness are three of the key characteristics that the Hawkeyes hope to exemplify as they trek to Ames to take on their hated rivals.
Anyone fortunate enough to view this game either in person or live on ESPNU (sadly the biggest tragedy of the entire event for those in locations without access to the channel) is sure see a whole lot of points and more passion than they know what to do with. When these two programs get together with next to no outside hype it makes for a shall we say testy match-up. With that being the case, who knows just what might happen when the rivals square off as ranked adversaries?
Simply put, this is a game worth tuning in to for all basketball and sports fans alike. It’s more than likely that the entire state of Iowa will be glued to the action for every last second.