It’s become chic to say it’s Football Night in America or Bowling Night in Bugtussle.
That’s a spin off of Hockey Night in Canada, a Saturday night staple in Canada on CBC-TV. The title dates back to 1931 on Canadian radio.
Well, Tuesday is Basketball Night in Iowa. For four solid hours, the state’s two nationally ranked teams will be featured on national cable television. Naturally, the games are packed with meaning to the participants.
At 6 on ESPN2, it’s Texas at Iowa State. The teams are ranked 17th and 19th. The order in which they are ranked depends on the poll to which you subscribe.
At 8:05 on ESPN, it’s No. 15 Iowa (both polls) at Indiana.
By night’s end, you could have two in-state teams with 20 wins. Or two that are stuck on 19. And would anyone dare say any result or combination of results is surprising?
It’s the two-thirds pole of this season’s conference race. Iowa is running just behind the co-leaders and Indiana is a horse that is wheezing. IU is 4-8 in the league with a point guard (Yogi Ferrell) who would be a co-favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year were he on a winner. But no Yogi is an island.
However, Indiana prefers playing at Iowa’s faster pace than what Penn State and Purdue play, so this could be a liberating game for the Hoosiers. Remember, Michigan went to Indiana two weeks ago and lost 73-62.
Iowa, meanwhile, is 8-4 and trying to stay a game behind Michigan and Michigan State in the loss column to remain a viable title-threat. To do so, it is being asked to win on the road at the conference’s most-storied arena.
Assuming anything in this conference is cockeyed this winter, but the Hawkeyes should be buoyed by the fact they have won three straight road games and four overall in the league. Also, five of the past weekend’s six Big Ten games were won by visitors.
This is Iowa’s longest road winning streak in the conference since it won its last three Big Ten road tilts in 1997 and its first league road game in 1998. The reason the Hawkeyes are in this thing is they haven’t stumbled against second-division teams. Indiana is a second-division team.
Texas is 9-3 in the Big 12, Iowa State 7-5. The Longhorns have won eight of their last nine games, the last two by an average of 18 points. The Cyclones got drilled at West Virginia last Monday, then hung on for dear life after blowing an 18-point lead at home against Texas Tech.
But Iowa State is no stranger to beating good teams. A victory over the Horns would be ISU’s seventh over a team that was ranked at the time it played it. It would set up the Cyclones to be tied for second in the Big 12 at week’s end, since it goes to last-place TCU Saturday while Texas visits Kansas.
Games like these, accessible to the nation in mid-February, leave indelible impressions. You can argue all night about the importance of one particular game, though.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said this Monday on Dan Dakich’s Indianapolis radio show: “I saw a thing yesterday that said for us, it was a good win against Ohio State (in Columbus) and a bad loss against Ohio State (in Iowa City). I don’t know how that’s possible. How’s that possible? I’m not that smart.”
As they say during Basketball Night in Iowa, it’s best to keep winning and let others sort that stuff out.
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