Winters in the state of Iowa can be a truly miserable existence. For all the chatter of how great of place Iowa is to live, when you are unwrapping seven layers of clothes in negative degree weather with a sore back from shoveling the snow the city plow dumped in your driveway, quality of life doesn’t seem to be high on the list.
From December to February, many choose to flee the state to the south while others hunker down and only emerge when they have to; or if there is a basketball game to attend. See, here’s the thing about Iowans, despite the hellacious conditions outside, they will risk their lives to find the fortresses of Hilton and Carver Hawkeye if quality basketball is being played.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for a long time.
Scraping crap off the window and spinning wheels took an entirely new meaning for the state of college basketball in Iowa over the past decade. From 2002-2011, Iowa State and Iowa combined to go to just three NCAA Tournaments. The only NCAA Tournament win in that stretch was Iowa State’s victory over Minnesota in 2005. The only team to make the Sweet 16 from the state since 2000 has been the UNI Panthers.
A once proud basketball state was relegated to irrelevance.
Attending the Cy-Hawk games during the McDermott-Lickliter era was similar to attending your cousin’s winter choir concert: you felt obligated to be present but there was little emotional investment. I will send you $100 via paypal if you can name three of the five leading scorers in the 2008 Cy-Hawk meeting. Seriously give it a go.
Iowa won an abysmal game 73-57 and there were only five players in double figures:
Jeff Peterson (17 points) Jermain Davis (16) Diante Garrett (16) Devan Bawinkel (12) Cyrus Tate (10).
Jermain Davis? Devan Bawinkel? As Wayne Morgan famously said, "Never heard of ’em."
During the classic battles in the ’90’s it was easy to despise guys like Jess Settles, Russ Millard, Sam Okey, Guy Rucker, J.R. "The Pump Fake" Koch, Ryan Bowen and his mini-me Ryan Luehersmann because they were memorable, relatively good and around for CENTURIES. As a 14 year old, if I was given a free punch in the face to any member of the human race, I would have selected the guys from the group "Chumbawamba" or Iowa forward/instigator Jacob Jaacks. I GET KNOCKED DOWN BUT I GET UP AGAIN.
I wanted to get fired up over Matt Gatens and Todd Lickliter, but I just kind of felt bad for them.
We have come a long way.
This year the Hawkeyes are a formidable group. They enter Hilton ranked in the top 25 and feature a versatile group with dudes every Iowa State fan has heard of. Devyn Marble and Aaron White are household names and high level players. I swear Zach McCabe used to throw post entry feeds to Acie Earl. These guys are annoying and that’s a positive for the rivalry. And Fran McCaffery is some weird combo of Dr. Tom Davis’ enjoyable playing style, mixed with Bo Pelini’s red face and Larry Eustachy’s antics. It is strangely fun to watch.
In order to be entertained properly an investment is needed and for the first time in a long time there is some serious investment in what happens on Friday night. A rivalry needs two components in order to thrive:
1. Your team needs to be playing for something meaningful.
2. The rival team needs to have villains.
Both sides of this basketball game can check both boxes. Throw in a sold out and raucous Hilton Coliseum where Iowa State has "lost" one game in almost two years (Kansas) and you’ve got a humdinger of a Friday night.
As a basketball fan, it is great to see the two big programs in the state relevant. It has been proven in the past that both can be successful at the same time.
In fact, having both programs on solid footing may actually improve the recruiting ground because players want to play in big-time games. There are two match-ups this weekend between top 25 teams in college basketball: Kentucky-North Carolina and Iowa State-Iowa.
Cold weather be damned, there is no other place in the world I’d rather be than Hilton Coliseum on Friday night. Big time basketball in the state of Iowa has returned.