Doug Elgin wasn’t thrilled when Iowa and Iowa State decided to drop home-and-home men’s basketball agreements with Northern Iowa and Drake in favor of Saturday’s Hy-Vee Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I thought that made the state pre
tty special,” said Elgin, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. “It was college basketball like it ought to be. I think the fact that both Drake and Northern Iowa have held their own in those series has been important in the way the rivalries were perceived. But this event is still great for college basketball in the state of Iowa.”
Iowa and Northern Iowa tip off the inaugural event at 1:30 p.m. Iowa State meets Drake in the second game at 4 p.m. Four teams, two games and plenty of plot lines, none more intriguing than the opportunity for MVC schools Northern Iowa and Drake give their league’s postseason status a power surge.
“I think whenever you have a chance to play high-major teams, and play them on a neutral floor, it really is an opportunity to make a statement, to improve your RPI and enhance the perception of your program and your league,” Elgin said.
The MVC has put itself in solid position for another multiple-bid NCAA Tournament. Two teams – Creighton and Wichita State – are in the Associated Press Top 25. That matches the Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences, and doubles the Pac-10.
With Northern Iowa and Illinois State also off to strong starts, it’s not a stretch to think the league could get at least three NCAA bids for the first time since the four-bid 2006 tournament. Three MVC teams – Creighton, Wichita State and Illinois State – have Top 50 RPIs. The MVC is ranked ninth as a league.
“We certainly entered the season with five or six teams having visions of at-large opportunities,” Elgin said. “Our teams are so close to winning some of these games.”
Louisville was ranked No. 2 when it edged Northern Iowa in the Bahamas, 51-46. Illinois State took the fifth-ranked Cardinals to the wire in Louisville before falling, 69-66. The Panthers also played No. 17 Memphis tight before losing in the Bahamas, 52-47.
Saturday provides another opportunity, against Big Ten and Big 12 competition.
“When you look at that conference (MVC), from top to bottom, there are not a lot of nights off in that league,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I think they’ll have multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.”
Northern Iowa has been Iowa’s elite team the last decade. The Panthers have been to five NCAA tournaments since 2004, as many as Iowa State, Iowa and Drake combined. Northern Iowa has defeated Iowa in six of the last 11 meetings, and Iowa State in six of the last eight meetings.
“I think the perception of our program has certainly changed since we got here 12 years ago,” said Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson, who came as an assistant to Greg McDermott and replaced him as head coach in 2006.
Jacobson has been able to sustain McDermott’s foundation, and build to it.
“They carried the state for a lot of years,” Hoiberg said. “Ben has done a great job of following up what Mac did there. It’s a program that’s always going to be there because of the way they play. They’re always going to have a chance, whoever they play against.”
Fran McCaffery knows the
life of a mid-major coach, most recently from his five seasons at Siena, and the difficulties of earning a name for yourself in the shadow of bigger programs. McCaffery who took his last three Siena teams to the NCAA Tourmament, is aware of the boost a Panther victory over his team would provide.
“Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State, they’ve got some really good teams with big -time players,”said McCaffery, who is 3-3 against MVC schools in three seasons as Iowa coach. “This is an opportunity to play another team that I consider one of the premier teams on our schedule.”
Drake has also had success against its in-state rivals of late. The Bulldogs have won four of the last six meetings with Iowa State, and three of the last six against Iowa.
“If you talk to us or Northern Iowa, we’d like to have those games in our gym like they have been,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said. “At the same time, you need to concern yourselves with the things that are in your control. I do think this will be a really good environment, a really good setting.”
The Big Four Classic debuts at a time when all four programs have a pulse. All four had winning seasons in 2011-12, the first time that’s happened in 50 years. All four made postseason play in the same season for the first time ever. And all four carried postseason hopes into this season.
“Basketball is fun in our state now,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going to be a very good environment, to see the teams in one setting.”
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HY-VEE BIG FOUR CLASSIC
1. This year begins a four-year agreement to have Iowa’s two Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball teams play the state’s major-conference schools in a doubleheader at Wells Fargo Arena. Iowa and Northern Iowa will play at 1:30 p.m., with Drake and Iowa State following at approximately 4 p.m. Iowa and Iowa State will be the “home” teams. Next year, Iowa plays Drake and Iowa State gets Northern Iowa.
2. The four schools rotate serving as hosts for the event. Iowa is hosting this year, Drake next year, then Northern Iowa and Iowa State. The host schools run the event as if it were their home game, hiring the officials, scorekeepers and other necessary game-related personnel, credentialing the media, choosing the national anthem singer and halftime entertainment, even making sure there are enough towels in the locker rooms. All revenue is split evenly among the four universities.
3. The arena handles the sales of tickets (after each school is allotted time to sell to its fans), the promotion of the event, the ticket-takers, security, parking attendants and concessions workers.
4. The games will be shown on two different networks. The Big Ten Network is airing Iowa-UNI; Mediacom Channel 22 will show Drake-ISU. Television rights were dictated by the rules of the respective conferences, but the stated goal was “to maximize television exposure.” Each team will have its radio broadcast crew in attendance calling the games as usual.
5. Because the games are not being played on campus, and aren’t an NCAA Tournament event, beer will be sold at the arena to those over age 21.
LIVE CHAT ON SATURDAY
Register reporters who are covering Saturday's event will host a live chat during both games on Saturday. Join the discussion at DesMoinesRegister.com.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball