Iowa basketball: Hawkeyes add Utah State matchup; non-conference schedule nearly complete

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The Iowa basketball team is returning to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a December game — and this time, there will be fans.

The Hawkeyes on Friday made official their matchup with Utah State on Dec. 18 in the Sanford Pentagon. The University of Iowa said tickets will go on sale at a later date.

This will mark the third time in the Fran McCaffery era that Iowa is playing a regular-season game in the Pentagon. That tradition began on Dec. 22, 2017, when the Hawkeyes bested Colorado in an entertaining matchup that was essentially an Iowa home game, with a raucous sellout crowd of 3,250 in the small venue.

Last winter, Iowa’s marquee matchup with then-No. 1 Gonzaga was played in Sioux Falls, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that top-five showdown was viewed by players’ families only and a handful of media members.

The tip-off of last year's Iowa game against Gonzaga (in the Sioux Falls Sanford Pentagon) is shown. Iowa is returning there Dec. 18 vs. Utah State.

Utah State went 20-9 last season under Craig Smith, who has since left to coach Utah. The Aggies were a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament (losing to Texas Tech in the first round) and have 74 wins over the last three seasons. Last winter, they had the No. 8 adjusted defense in the country, according to KenPom.com. Utah State will be led by first-year coach Ryan Odom, who was previously at Maryland-Baltimore County.

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Iowa’s non-conference schedule of 11 games is essentially rounding into shape, though no official road map has been released by the university. In addition to Utah State, Iowa will have road games at Iowa State and in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, against an opponent to be announced. That leaves the Hawkeyes with eight home games. The Cedar Rapids Gazette previously reported that lineup would include Southern, North Carolina Central, South Dakota, Chattanooga, Kansas City, Northern Illinois and Alabama State. That leaves one unknown opponent; Iowa was not selected to play in this year’s Gavitt Games, which features Big Ten vs. Big East matchups.

While that certainly won’t be a marquee lineup of home games to welcome fans back at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, it’s safe to say that McCaffery doesn’t mind. He’ll have the chore of replacing the majority of his scoring talent from last season (including national player of the year Luka Garza) and will be looking for his best lineups before the 20-game Big Ten Conference gauntlet begins.

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Don’t forget, last season, Iowa did not have many non-conference gimmes. Of the Hawkeyes’ 31 games last season, 22 game against Big Ten teams, two more were in the NCAA Tournament, plus Gonzaga and Iowa State. McCaffery likes to get his young players some low-pressure experience in those non-conference matchups against lesser foes.

Iowa’s lineup of 20 Big Ten opponents was previously announced. Game times (including for the Utah State game) will largely be determined by TV networks.