Williams: More than just a game

Sunday’s rare November non-conference showdown between Iowa State and seventh-ranked Michigan will be much more than just a basketball game. The 40-minute contest is setting up to be one giant event.

Of course, ESPN’s celebrated commentator Dick Vitale will call the first game of his career inside of Hilton Coliseum. The legendary Johnny Orr, who has won more games (as a head coach) at Iowa State and Michigan than any other man, will also be in attendance.

(Any guesses as to what kind of a conversation those two men will have?)

On the court, Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team will learn an awful lot about itself. Through two drubbings over UNC-Wilmington and Texas A&M-C.C. we have learned next to nothing about this team. A gut-check against last season’s defending runner-ups will be the perfect test.  

In addition to all of the present day build up will be the ever-important recruiting sideshow. Rashad Vaughn, one of the top-ranked recruits in college basketball’s class of 2014, will also be in the house. As of now (remember that scenarios constantly change in regards to recruiting), Vaughn’s college choice will likely come down to the Cyclones and UNLV.

Vaughn, who ranks as the seventh-best recruit in 2014, has witnessed a game at Hilton Coliseum before but he has never seen anything like what is in store for Sunday.   

Iowa State doesn’t have warm weather, an impressive metropolitan area or national championship banners to show recruits. Besides an up and coming charismatic head coach, Hilton Coliseum and Iowa State’s boisterous fan base might be this program’s top selling point to a recruit like Vaughn, or anybody for that matter.

“That’s one of the biggest recruiting pitches we have, is our fan base, is our arena,” Hoiberg said without mentioning Vaughn (that’s an NCAA no-no) on Wednesday. “The players we are recruiting right now know a lot about Hilton Coliseum. People are excited for the game. People we are recruiting are excited about it. They will see an unbelievable atmosphere I know. I don’t know if we will win the game but they will see an unbelievable atmosphere.”

Hilton’s increased energy level during Tuesday night’s 30-point shellacking of Texas A&M-C.C. was evident to many. Perhaps it is because Iowa State’s football season has been so bad and fans are desperate for anything positive to occur? Or, is the Iowa State basketball program simply seeing the results of two straight NCAA Tournament bids and “Hoiball” at its finest?

My guess is that both likely play a part in the early-season oomph, but more the latter. What you are witnessing right now is the maturation of Hoiberg’s still young program. Prior to the last two seasons, Iowa State was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 and for the most part, fans had hoped their favorite program could make a run in March.

Now, from the head coach to the most pessimistic message board poster on CF, the Cyclone Nation expects to be one of the to teams in the Big 12.

“I was surprised on a Tuesday night how many people were at Hilton,” sophomore Georges Niang said. “I feel like there has been more energy in the building. We have been winning the last couple of years and people are excited about Cyclone basketball. It is awesome when you can have a program like that when people are excited to see you day in and day out.”

Everything is ramping up for Sunday though. The hype for this November basketball game is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Dick Vitale + Rashad Vaughn + Johnny Orr + a top-10 opponent will undoubtedly equal utter madness. 

“If they are going to come here, they are going to see the full potential of Hilton come Sunday,” Naz Long said. “It is going to be Hilton Magic in live form and it’s not going to get any better than that. Dick Vitale is coming and that speaks for itself. It is going to be a crazy atmosphere.”

In addition to Vaughn, 2014 signee Clayton Custer will be in attendance, as will 2014 commitment (and Marquette transfer) Jameel McKay. Sunday isn’t just important for the in-house recruits though. Iowa State currently has three Michigan natives (Monte Morris, Percy Gibson and Sherron Dorsey-Walker) on its roster. Ever since Cornell Mann joined Hoiberg’s staff in 2011, the state of Michigan has been one of Iowa State’s prime recruiting hotbeds.

“We have a lot of guys on the team right now from the state of Michigan so it is always important for them,” Hoiberg said. “Their friends and family will be back home watching. Some of them will be here at Hilton on Sunday. That is big. We are in the process right now of recruiting some players out of that state and they will be watching.” 

Tip-time is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and the game can be seen nationally on ESPN2.

Get there early. Hilton is about to get nuts.