It may have been mentioned a time or 10,000 that Iowa’s men’s basketball nonconference schedule wasn’t the stuff that dreams are made of last season.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said the schedule would get better. It couldn’t get much worse.
But there is already some teeth in McCaffery’s words. Wednesday’s pending announcement that the Hawkeyes will host Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3 is a boon for Iowa fans.
Just the name “Notre Dame” works. Iowa hasn’t hosted Notre Dame since Fido’s great-great-grandfather was a pup. Or more specifically, the last time the Irish played in Iowa City was 1950. Their last two meetings were a 121-106 Iowa win in a 1970 NCAA regional consolation game, and Notre Dame’s 77-68 Preseason NIT win in South Bend in 1990.
The Fighting Irish won 25 games last season, but bowed out with a 76-58 opening-round NCAA tournament loss to Iowa State. The Cyclones carved them up.
The Irish lose their top big man, Jack Cooley, to graduation. Cooley averaged double-digit points and rebounds last season. They return three starting guards. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins combined for 24.5 points and 11 assists per game. Pat Connaughton averaged 8.9 points.
Just by switching from the weak field of the Great Alaska Shootout to Battle 4 Atlantis, the Hawkeyes not only traded up in destinations, but in opposition. They will play three teams among Kansas, Wake Forest, USC, Villanova, Tennessee, Xavier and UTEP. Those are recognizable teams from recognizable conferences.
And who in Hawkeyeland wouldn’t want to see an Iowa-Kansas game? It’s been a long time since those two hooked up. Since February 2000, to be precise. That’s when Iowa beat the Jayhawks in Iowa City, 77-69. Jacob Jaacks had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawkeyes.
In December 1998, the Hawkeyes snapped Kansas’ 62-game home winning streak with an 85-81 win in Tom Davis’ final season as Iowa’s coach. Iowa trailed by as much as 18 points in that game. Kent McCausland made two 3-pointers in the final 1:40 for the Hawkeyes. Jaacks had 14 points. The big guy from Cedar Rapids seemed to have Kansas’ number.
Now let’s see how the rest of the schedule shapes up. There will be bunnies at home. Everybody plays them. But will there be more interesting games sprinkled into the mix?