When it comes to in-state rivalries, it’s hard to get excited for a matchup without having any affiliation. ESPN and Dick Vitale will pump up North Carolina-Duke weeks in advance, especially if it becomes a top 25 matchup. Casual college basketball fans will take note of it and some will even watch, but there’s nothing that will get them pumped up for the game unless they wear a shade of blue that represents their school.
Even for Iowa State (7-0), it’s hard to get pumped up for an annual Friday night matchup against Iowa (10-1) every December, when Cyclone fans will watch over 30 men’s basketball games and they’ll tend to look toward the excitement of facing Kansas and the rest of the Big 12’s top teams.
This year’s matchup is different. The state of Iowa has been blessed with talented basketball teams with Northern Iowa and Drake getting the spotlight multiple times. But now, the traditional big school rivalry is back. Not much of the nation will watch this game, especially on a said Friday night in December when basketball isn’t even in focus until football ends. That’s the benefit of being a Cyclone or Hawkeye fan at this moment; this could be the best in-state college basketball rivalry game that everybody else missed.
(23)Iowa Hawkeyes vs (17)Iowa State Cyclones
James H. Hilton Coliseum | Ames, Iowa
Tip-off: Friday, 8:30 PM CT | TV: ESPNU
Iowa comes in with a wealth of talent; 10 different players average 15 or more minutes per game. That gives the Hawkeyes the depth they need to compete in a hostile environment. Hilton Coliseum will be their first true road game of the season and the only one before Big Ten play begins. It’s already hell on Earth for any team to come into the Coliseum and try to win; double that with the hatred from an in-state rivalry, something that only Kansas players can relate to when they make their annual trip to Ames.
The Hawkeyes should come in with confidence that they can tame the Cyclones. Jarrod Uthoff is a candidate for the best player in the nation off the bench. He’s so efficient from the field not forcing shots up, he’s a rebounding beast and is second on the team in blocks. He’ll be a stiff test for Melvin Ejim, and that will be the highlight matchup to watch all night long when Uthoff comes off the bench, barring any foul trouble.
[Also see: Take a moment to enjoy the CyHawk rivalry]
What to watch for
There are three keys in this game to watch for. First, will the raucous environment effect the Hawkeyes from playing? If any players become overwhelmed or don’t play to their talent level, there’s more than enough talent to step in and overcome that.
More interesting is how the Hawkeyes will keep the Cyclones’ big men off the boards and how they will bottle up 3-point opportunities. Iowa can match up with Dustin Hogue and Ejim, but they don’t have a good match up on DeAndre Kane, and he’s second on the team in total rebounds (56). Don’t forget Georges Niang, who’s fourth on the team with 34 total rebounds.
Iowa isn’t known for being a 3-point shooting team, and neither Roy Devyn Marble or Aaron White will be a threat, but it’s the efficiency of Uthoff and the chances that both Zach McCabe and Mike Gesell will make that will force Iowa State to defend them on the perimeter. Both McCabe and Gesell are a combined 27 of 60 from the arch.
[Also see: Iowa-Iowa State: Five players to watch]
Oh, there will be points tonight. Both teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring average and lead their respective conferences. If neither team hits 90 or Hilton Coliseum isn’t still rocking at 11:00 PM tonight, I’ll be shocked.
Iowa has the depth to compete all night long, but Iowa State has the better overall talent. A sluggish start like they had against Northern Iowa will spell doom for the Cyclones, but they’ll be much more focused at home. They place opponents on a tee and smash them out of the park.
The Hawkeyes are too good to get blown out, and perhaps they would even be favorites if this game was played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But it’s not, and the players will feed off the electric crowd and they’ll continue their undefeated start before heading to Hawai’i.
IAST 97, IOWA 92 (Odds: IAST -4, O167.5)