Iowa-Nebraska will be 'protected rivalry' in men's basketball

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The Iowa men’s basketball team will likely be assured of facing Nebraska twice each season for the foreseeable future.

That was the word from the Big Ten Conference basketball coaches after their annual meeting at league headquarters Monday. The conference is going to a 20-game schedule this winter and is looking to create “protected rivalries.” The league already has said that schools that share a state — like Purdue and Indiana — will always play each other twice.

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said the Badgers have asked to be paired with Minnesota in this arrangement.

“We were all given a chance to pick one and that’s the obvious one for us because of the border,” Gard said.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said he's always interested in having his men's basketball team play border rivals twice each winter. The Hawkeyes will be paired with Nebraska in a home-and-home series for the foreseeable future.

Gard said Iowa would be another natural fit.

“But then, who does Nebraska go with?” he said. “So you look at bordering states as a whole vs. maybe what’s best for you. Whether it was Iowa or Minnesota, obviously, when you have bordering states, for fans it’s always a big deal."

Iowa will face Nebraska and Wisconsin twice each this winter under a schedule that was revealed last month. The Hawkeyes will meet the Gophers just once. Each Big Ten team plays a home-and-home series with seven league foes while contesting with six others only once.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, also attending meetings here, noted that schedules beyond 2018-19 have not yet been done. But he’s in favor of maintaining regional rivalries as much as possible.

“I always make sure that the conference knows I love to play border schools. I just think it’s good for our fans,” Barta said.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles echoed that sentiment.

“I want to play Iowa twice. I want to play Minnesota and Wisconsin twice. I think that’s really important, because I know it bothers me when we don’t play them twice,” Miles said. “I think it will be really good for everybody involved. If you just look over the course of time, there’s times we’re strong, times we’re not. Times that another (team) is strong, they’re not. Those things kind of level out.”

Iowa played Nebraska only once last winter, dropping a 98-84 decision in Lincoln. But Miles said it’s a matchup he hears a lot about.

“Our fans don’t want to lose to Iowa. Especially in that Omaha region. It’s really prevalent there,” Miles said. “I think that’s great. Any time you have people talking about a particular game, it raises the interest and intensity of the game.”

Gard indicated that the protected rivals are subject to change.

“Unless we look to shuffle it. I don’t know if we’ll continue to do that,” Gard said. “But going forward here in the near future it’s going to be two games (between Minnesota and Wisconsin).”

Barta still evaluating status of softball coach

The Iowa softball team saw its season end Saturday with a 2-1 loss in eight innings against Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes finished 21-32 and 6-16 against league opponents.

Marla Looper concluded her eighth season as head coach with her future in doubt. Her contract expires June 30. She has a 172-247-1 record at Iowa.

“I was really proud of our women. They played hard, played two great games,” Barta said when asked about Looper’s status.

“It was sad for them to lose that extra-inning game. It’s now complete and here I am (in Chicago) for the next couple of days, so no chance to evaluate in a complete format. But we’ll get there.”

Barta said there is some urgency to review the season and the job Looper did.

“It’s always a priority for me to evaluate the spring sports that are done,” he said.