CHICAGO — One year into the Big Four Classic, Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson hesitates when asked about the event.
“I thought it was OK,” Jacobson said Wednesday at Missouri Valley Conference media days at Loyola University.
Nearly every season from 1990 through 2012, Iowa’s four Division I men’s basketball programs met annually in a round-robin format. In an effort to open up their non-conference schedules, Iowa State and Iowa chose to play either Drake and Northern Iowa each year but not both. They also opted to move those games to Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena as part of a doubleheader instead of at home campuses.
The schools have a contract with Wells Fargo Arena for three more Big Four Classics. This year’s event is scheduled for Dec. 7.
“I would rather play at Iowa or at Iowa State and then obviously have our home game,” Jacobson aid. “I would rather do any of those three things than play the neutral game. The environment at Hilton, the environment at Carver or the environment at the McLeod Center or the Knapp Center whenever those games are being played, I’d rather be a part of that. I’d rather play at Iowa than in a neutral game.”
When asked if he would play at Iowa State or Iowa for a paycheck, Jacobson said, “I don’t know. I have not been involved in any of those conversations at this point. I don’t have an answer to that.”
Women’s event coming?
While Jacobson is lukewarm about the men’s neutral-site event, Northern Iowa women’s coach Tanya Warren is all for one.
The women’s programs continue to play one another each year, but Warren would like to consider a day or weekend where the state teams play at one site. She has no preference on whether it’s at a neutral location or on campus, such as a doubleheader at Hilton Coliseum.
“I wish someone would bring it up because I think it would be something that possibly could go off and be something big, especially if we did it either close to when the men’s (classic) is or around that,” Warren said. “I hope that at some point that will come up. I’m waiting for it, too. I think there’s some value in at least discussing it.”
The idea also draws the interest of Drake junior Kyndal Clark, who was tabbed to the all-MVC preseason squad.
“I think it would be awesome,” Clark said. “As an athlete you always want those things. You grow up dreaming about it. You grow up hoping that someday you’ll get that experience. Definitely as a collegiate athlete now, that’s something that I want that’s cool, that’s fun, that’s exciting. I think that brings great attention to the different programs and to Iowa as a whole. We need that kind of attention to push us in the right direction.”
Comings and goings
The Missouri Valley Conference lost a superstar men’s basketball program in Creighton, which left for the Big East. After checking out multiple schools, the league opted for Chicago-based Loyola University.
The league chose to showcase Loyola by staging its annual media event at its newly rebuilt Gentile Arena. Loyola won the 1963 NCAA title but wasn’t nationally relevant for several years. Men’s coach Porter Moser believes the conference upgrade from the Horizon League will elevate his program’s profile.
“The Valley carries a lot of weight,” Moser said. “It resonates with student-athletes, with parents, with AAU coaches and rightfully so. It has a lot of credibility. It has street cred. Now we have that in the recruiting process. To combine that with this area, the location, we have upgraded facilities and our first-class facilities, it’s just going to enhance the recruiting.”
Creighton’s loss is significant, however. The league champion Bluejays moved to the Big East Conference and feature two-time All-American Doug McDermott and one of the nation’s largest arenas.
Drake Coach Ray Giacoletti said the loss might hurt the league but it could help his program, however.
“The Valley is probably not going to be happy with me saying this, but for us at Drake, Creighton leaving is huge,” Giacoletti said. “It’s two-fold. You get the best team out of the league for the last 10 years and, secondly, I think it opens up a huge recruiting window. Because our focus is recruit the Midwest. Iowa being the first and foremost, and you can draw a circle around Des Moines with Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and back to Minneapolis.”
Northern Iowa junior forward Seth Tuttle was one of seven players named to the MVC preseason men’s team. Joining Tuttle was Wichita State’s Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early, Southern Illinois’ Desmar Jackson, Bradley’s Walt Lemon, Missouri State’s Marcus Marshall and Indiana State’s Jake Odum. Early was named Preseason Player of the Year
“People feel like he’s one of the top six or seven guys in the league. I feel the same way,” Jacobson said. “I don’t think there’s any question he’s one of the best players in our league.”
Joining Clark on the women’s team were Wichita State’s Alex Harden (player of the year), Loyola’s Simone Law, Southern Illinois’ Cartaesha Macklin and Indiana State’s Anna Munn.
Wichita State was tabbed as the men’s favorite, while Indiana State was named the women’s team to beat. UNI was ranked third and Drake 10th among the men, while UNI and Drake was rated third and fourth, respectively, among the women.