DES MOINES, Iowa – For the first time since at least the mid-2000s, both Iowa and Iowa State head into their annual December matchup with legitimate NCAA tournament expectations.
Those postseason hopes will take a hit for the loser of tonight’s showdown in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes (7-2) and Cyclones (6-2) have each lost to the two best teams they’ve played; Iowa to No. 24 Wichita State and Virginia Tech, and Iowa State to No. 11 Cincinnati and No. 21 UNLV.
Each team could use a quality nonconference win before league play starts. What better way to grab one at the expense of your rival?
“It’s going to be fun,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ve got to go out there and be ready. We’ve got to go out there and play very intense basketball, because I know they’re going to be ready.”
Iowa State broke a 7-year NCAA tournament drought last season, advancing to the third round before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky. Iowa is hoping to snap its 7-year drought with an NCAA bid this spring.
Fans on both sides of this rivalry have long pegged Friday night as the first time since perhaps 2006 – when Iowa reached the NCAA tournament and Iowa State was expected to – that there would be more than simple bragging rights on the line.
“We’ve got to do a good job with our preparation these next few days getting ready,” Hoiberg said. “They play multiple defenses. They’ve got some good young players and their older players have really stepped up.”
Both teams’ future tourney hopes rest on the shoulders of new point guards.
Senior Korie Lucious, a key cog in Final Four teams at Michigan State before transferring to Iowa State, has had nine-assist performances the last two games, and hit 5 3-pointers for a season-high 17 points in Tuesday’s 83-72 win over Florida Gulf Coast.
“He did a good job, I thought, of spreading the ball around for the most part,” Hoiberg said. “At times, he’s still trying to go between his legs too many times or make a home run pass.”
For Iowa, freshman Mike Gesell was given the reins to start the season. But after struggling in the two losses, coach Fran McCaffery started fellow freshman Anthony Clemmons at point guard and shifted Gesell to shooting guard Tuesday.
Clemmons had eight assists and no turnovers in an 87-63 win over South Dakota, and Gesell had 12 points.
“Right now it looks like that’s a good move,” McCaffery said. “Gesell will play a ton of [point guard]. But he is such a good scorer, and he’s so good off the ball. We’re playing him both places.”
Iowa State at Iowa
When: 7:06 p.m. today
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Line: Iowa by 3