Iowa faces Drake; Cyclones square off with UNI
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
Iowa and Iowa State have never been swept in their annual doubleheader against Northern Iowa and Drake.
That might change on Saturday in Des Moines. The Hawkeyes (5-6) and Cyclones (7-2) are both at serious risk of dropping their neutral-floor matchups at Wells Fargo Arena.
Iowa State, which faces off against the Panthers, is 25 spots below Northern Iowa (15th) in the RPI rankings. Iowa (239rd) is 38 slots behind the Bulldogs.
The Cyclones have won seven straight after an 0-2 start. But their resume has yet to stack up to Northern Iowa (8-2), which has beaten North Carolina State and UNLV.
Iowa lost six out of seven before a 91-60 win over Southern on Sunday. The Hawkeyes are 58-10 against Drake (5-5), but the Bulldogs have been better than expected in coach Niko Medved’s first season.
“They’ve got a veteran club,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They’re playing that way. They move the ball. They share it. They’ve got a lot of guys making 3s, a lot of guys making plays. They play small, but it doesn’t seem to affect them on the glass like you think it would.”
Some things to consider ahead of the fifth annual doubleheader in Iowa’s capital:
Northern Iowa will be Iowa State’s biggest test to date. The Cyclones have rallied behind Nick Weiler-Babb, who is averaging 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. But Weiler-Babb is still new to playing point guard, and the Panthers have one of the nation’s best defenses regardless of tempo.
“They’re going to make it tough for you to score. They’re going to play with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger, a lot of toughness. And they should — they’ve got a lot of good wins,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.
Northern Iowa has rallied from an uncharacteristic 14-16 finish last season. Senior big man Bennett Koch is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, and point guard Juwan McCloud (10.5 points) has emerged after an underwhelming freshman season. The real surprise for the Panthers has been freshman guard Tywhon Pickford, who is averaging 10.1 rebound. Northern Iowa even received three points in this week’s Top 25 — and would undoubtedly get more next week with a win over the Cyclones.
“I think it’s great,” coach Ben Jacobson said. “Being ranked is a big deal.”
HAWKS FINDING THEIR WAY?
Iowa was expected to finish in the middle of the Big Ten in 2017-18, perhaps higher if a young roster matured more quickly than expected. It’s been just the opposite for the Hawkeyes, who have been plagued by poor defense and dreadful free throw shooting. Iowa was 1 of 8 from the line in last week’s 84-78 loss at Iowa State.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
Two years ago, Iowa barely held off Drake 70-64. Could the Bulldogs finally pick up a win after five straight losses in the Big Four’s doubleheader format? Drake only lost by one Monday at Minnesota — a team than the Hawkeyes — and it has a win over Wake Forest to its credit. Iowa has won 32 of the last 35 meetings, but Medved has a team that won just seven times a year ago playing inspired ball heading into Missouri Valley Conference play.
HE SAID IT
“We’re going to play a lot of guys,” said McCaffery, who has 12 players averaging at least 10 minutes a game. “I don’t know that we’ve really gotten to that point where we can say ‘OK, this core nucleus of guys is going to stay together.’ Probably won’t work that way.”