DES MOINES — Iowa and Iowa State venturing to play at Northern Iowa and Drake made men’s college basketball unique in Iowa.
The big Division I programs seldom play at smaller in-state schools anywhere else, let alone every other year. You come to them, if they deign to even allow you on their schedules.
It was big of our big boys to take on those games, because they were fraught with peril. Many said they had nothing to gain by playing them. A sad attitude, that.
But it doesn’t matter now because that’s gone here. Gone, long gone. That finality was brought home with Saturday’s first Big Four Classic in Wells Fargo Arena. Too bad. Because this isn’t as good.
It was nice and different to have all four of Iowa’s Division I teams in one venue for one afternoon, and all four fan-bases sharing space for a day. But from an atmosphere standpoint, it didn’t compare with the intensity and fun in the intimate gyms of Drake and UNI when the Cyclones and Hawkeyes came calling.
Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg compared the scene here to that of a conference tourney, and it was. There were more fans from Iowa and ISU than the two Missouri Valley Conference schools, but not enough to dwarf them.
But what you found was what you find at most league-tourney games. The fans of the two teams are into it, but everyone else tends to define “spectator.”
The ISU and Drake fans waited fairly quietly for Iowa’s 80-73 win over UNI to conclude so they could get down to business, and many Hawkeyes and Panthers fans left the building well before the Cyclones’ 86-77 win over the Bulldogs was done.
It might have been poetic justice had one or both of the two Missouri Valley Conference teams pulled a minor upset. But Iowa and Iowa State not only got the scheduling they wanted, they got the on-court results they desired. Here are some highs and lows of the day:
Best player: Devyn Marble of Iowa, barely over Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim. Marble established himself immediately and had a dominant 30-point game. What did Marble do?
“Everything,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobsons said.
What did Ejim do? He had 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals. In other words, everything.
All-Classic team: Marble, Ejim, Iowa guard Mike Gesell, UNI guard Deon Mitchell, UNI forward Seth Tuttle, Drake guard Chris Hines.
Best basket (tie): Melsahn Basabe of Iowa hit a jumper with 7:33 left to blunt a UNI rally and give the Hawkeyes a 61-55 lead. It was Basabe’s only field goal, but it was authoritative on the heels of a Tuttle 3-point play.
Will Clyburn of ISU had a dunk and was fouled with 3:19 left after he swiped the ball from Ben Simons immediately following a Simons defensive rebound. Drake would have been looking to trim a 77-71 lead, but Clyburn’s play gave the Cyclones a cushion they wouldn’t shed.
Best defensive play(s): Back-to-back Iowa blocked shots midway through the first half. Marble had the first, White the second. Iowa recovered both. They were sandwiched by two of Marble’s four 3-pointers, and a 25-20 Iowa lead mushroomed to 31-20.
Best concession-stand item: Corn dogs, by a nose over funnel cakes.
Starters from the state of Iowa: Three out of the 20. Drake’s Seth VanDeest, Iowa’s Adam Woodbury and UNI’s Tuttle. VanDeest and Tuttle had 18 points, Woodbury one.
Starters from Michigan: Six.
Fouls: Ninety-six. That’s right, 96 fouls were called in the two games, resulting in 116 free-throws. Six players fouled out. It was tedious.
That said, “This is a good day of basketball,” Jacobson insisted. “I’ve said that from the start.”
But, he added, “I would venture a guess that all four of us would prefer a home game.”
They called it a “Classic.” It was a double-header, nothing more.