From every angle, Iowa vs. UNI is a terrific matchup
In dissecting Saturday's Iowa vs. Northern Iowa clash in the Big Four Classic, similar themes keep cropping up.
And the bottom line is, the sellout crowd at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines — and Big Ten Network subscribers — should witness a heck of a 6:30 p.m. matchup.
No. 1: Both teams are hungry to get back on the court after a loss and long layoff.
The 8-3 Hawkeyes were defenseless and humbled Dec. 12 at home against Iowa State .
"Our last performance wasn't a great one," said Iowa's Aaron White, who has scored in double figures in every game this year. "So this one, we'll prove some people wrong and play a little bit better."
The 9-1 Panthers will be playing exactly a week since a spirited effort became an emotional double-overtime loss at Shaka Smart-coached Virginia Commonwealth.
"We didn't play our best basketball. We didn't play bad basketball, either," Panthers guard Matt Bohannon said. "After every game there's obviously one or two plays that you as an individual would like to have back."
No. 2: Both rosters are stocked with Iowa talent and longtime rivals.
Six of UNI's 10 most-used players starred at in-state high schools. Three of the Hawkeyes' top seven are Iowans. UNI guard Wes Washpun and Iowa guard Josh Oglesby prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington.
"He knows my moves, I know his moves," Oglesby said. "Forcing him right obviously is a big thing."
Oglesby lamented that he's never beaten Bohannon, who played for the great Linn-Mar teams that also starred North Carolina all-American Marcus Paige.
Even a guy from Texas understands what kind of Iowa pride is on the line Saturday.
"It's a big game," UNI's Deon Mitchell said, "where everyone wants to see who is the best school in the state."
No. 3: Both teams prefer to push the pace.
UNI and VCU combined for 180 points.
Playing up-tempo is the Hawkeyes' game and they won't change that approach, even though that turned out to be a disaster in the 90-75 loss to Iowa State.
"Our transition game, both offensively and defensively has to be better," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "UNI runs, we run. OK. Iowa State runs, we run. We lost the transition battle Friday night both ways. Any way you cut it."
No. 4: Both teams feature a premier big man.
White, at 6-foot-9, has by far been Iowa's most productive and consistent player. He's a master at getting the free throw line, where he's shooting 88.5 percent, and is averaged 15.8 points a game.
UNI coach Ben Jacobson said 6-8, 232-pound senior Marvin Singleton would get the first crack at defending White.
In Panther Purple, UNI's 6-8 Seth Tuttle is shooting 63.3 percent from the field and averaging 14.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. McCaffery suggested Tuttle could be the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, and White heard his coach compare him to Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky.
"He'll take guys out, he'll spin off the block. He's got an array of moves," White said. "The good thing is for us, we've got two good centers (7-1 Adam Woodbury and 6-10 Gabe Olaseni) we can put on him."
No. 5: Both teams can pad their NCAA Tournament resume with a win.
White dismissed urgency about Iowa's current RPI ranking (89th on Friday at ESPN.com), saying there would be plenty of time in the Big Ten Conference season to improve it. RPI is an important measure come Selection Sunday in mid-March.
If Iowa loses, it'll be perceived as the third-best team in the state and will have gone 1-4 nonconference against top-100 RPI teams.
For Northern Iowa (24th in ESPN's RPI as of Friday), Iowa and MVC favorite Wichita State offer the two best remaining big-ticket opportunities to shape its body of work.
The website of basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy has UNI 29th nationally and Iowa 33rd in his rankings. His projections show Iowa winning this game, 63-62.
It doesn't get any tighter than that.
"It's going to be a terrific atmosphere," Bohannon said.
Iowa (8-3) vs. Northern Iowa (9-1)
Specifics — 6:36 p.m. Saturday, Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines.
Following the game — TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: Iowa announcers: WHO (1040 AM), WMT (600 AM) and the Hawkeye network; UNI announcers: The Champ (1700 AM), KXEL (1540 AM) and the Panther network. Live scoring: hawkeyesports.com.
Preview — The schools have split the last 12 matchups. ... UNI dropped out of the national rankings but is still receiving votes following a double-overtime loss at VCU on Dec. 13. The Panthers' Wes Washpun scored a career-best 27 points in that game. ... Iowa continues to struggle get points from its backcourt, but Anthony Clemmons (2.8 ppg in his last five games) remains the starter at the 2 guard. "He's typically a defensive guy that changes things for us," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "So he'll still be in the starting lineup." ... McCaffery said Trey Dickerson (knee), who did not play vs. Iowa State, would play Saturday.