From 1965 through 2011, Iowa and Drake played every season but one.
Routinely it was a hammer-nail relationship. Iowa pummeled Drake for 27 straight year before Dr. Tom Davis — who applied many of those beatings himself — guided Drake past Iowa in 2006. His son, Keno, led the Bulldogs past the Hawkeyes two more times before Iowa reclaimed its dominance from 2009 through 2011.
The teams missed one another last year as part of the Big 4 Classic. Iowa and Iowa State declined to renew the annual contracts with Northern Iowa and Drake and instead wanted to play each school every-other year at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena. Last year Iowa played Northern Iowa, and Iowa State faced Drake. This year, the games are flipped.
Drake’s relationship with Iowa State extends well beyond its series with Iowa. The schools are located 30 miles apart and had played 105 straight years before this season. Unless both wind up in the NCAA tournament in the same draw, that streak ends this year.
The response to the Big 4 Classic was tepid last year. Most of the seats were sold, but many Iowa and Iowa State fans simply left after their games. Among the many goals was to have a national broadcaster partner for the classic, but this year Mediacom airs the games. Larry Morgan and Mac McCausland will call the Iowa-Drake game. Brent Blum and Kevin Lehman will call UNI-Iowa State.
UNI Coach Ben Jacobson, who told me in October the classic “was just OK” prefers to play the in-state games on campus, even on the road. Iowa guard Devyn Marble went the other route, stumping for all in-state games to be played in Des Moines.
“I think we should play Iowa State in that arena,” Marble said. “I love the Big 4 Classic and Drake in Des Moines. I think it’s a special and creative thing.”
Marble quickly added that he liked to play on the road, too.
The Big 4 Classic is in its second year of a four-year deal. This year’s is the earliest game on Dec. 7. In 2014, the schools will play Dec. 20. The final scheduled classic is set for Dec. 19. 2015.
“It will be a great atmosphere with opportunity for college basketball fans of the state to see all of us in one place,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “It will be a great atmosphere for four really good teams.”
Iowa and Iowa State will continue to play one another annually on campus. This year, both could be ranked in their Dec. 13 match-up at Hilton Coliseum. UNI and Drake compete twice annually as part of Missouri Valley Conference play.
Iowa has played four grueling games between the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge game against Notre Dame. McCaffery expects a fight from Drake on Saturday night.
“There’s a lot of ways to look at it,” McCaffery said. “You know regardless of who you play, it’s going to be a fiercely competitive game. That’s important this time of year. You’re trying to get your team ready, and you want to challenge your team. But you don’t want to challenge them necessarily for 13 wars, because you know you’ve got 18 coming up. But you need some wars, you need some battles. Obviously Iowa State and that game are going to be two.
“Whenever you schedule, for us it’s typically the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Iowa State game, either Drake or Northern Iowa game and whatever tournament we go to. There may be one other depending on who’s good in a given year on our schedule. I think that’s a good way to prepare our team.”
Iowa beat Northern Iowa and Iowa State beat Drake last year.
“Obviously in-state games are always intense and I have a lot of fun going down there to Des Moines last year,” Aaron White said. “It’s a good atmosphere and it will be a good game between us two.”