College basketball is back and this time with a significant number of fans for the first time since March 2020. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance this past Sunday when UNI hosted the ninth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes for an in-state women’s basketball matchup. The atmosphere was fantastic, with plenty of Hawkeye fans making the short trip from Iowa City to join the rabid UNI faithful.
It was a win for all involved, as Iowa got a good early season test from a tough UNI team, the Panthers got to face a legit top-10 team in the country, a game that will undoubtedly make them better, and the fans were treated to a great basketball game, one that those in the black and gold didn’t have to travel across the country to see.
Sites like this are a regular in women’s basketball, as all four of the major in-state teams, UNI, Iowa, Iowa State, and Drake, all play each other every year. However, for whatever reason, the men’s teams representing these schools don’t play each other every year. Iowa and Iowa State always have their big rivalry game, and UNI and Drake play twice a year due to both being in the Missouri Valley Conference, but you rarely see matchups between Iowa and UNI, Iowa State and Drake, and so forth.
Every Power 5 college basketball team has to fill their early schedule with lesser teams before they begin conference play. Names like Longwood, North Carolina Central, and Alabama State appear on Iowa’s early schedule, while Iowa State takes on teams like Grambling State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Jackson State. These games certainly have their purpose. The bigger teams get to play in front of their home fans, work out early season wrinkles against a less talented team, and give young players a chance to get acclimated to big time college basketball without diving in headfirst against a Big 10 or Big 12 opponent.
While these games should certainly occur in moderation, there are several problems with them. These games are not exciting to the fans. Everyone knows the outcome before the game starts, there are few if any visiting fans outside of family members, and if you do somehow lose, your season is seen as tainted before it really gets started. All of these problems are solved by playing in-state opponents early in the season.
Alabama State beating Iowa is something nobody thinks will happen. However, UNI beating Iowa is not only a possibility, but it has happened five of the 12 times the teams have met. Due to the short drive necessary to attend these games, the crowds are packed with fans from both teams, and if an upset does occur, not only does it give a huge boost to the winners, but it also doesn’t ruin the season of the losers by any means.
There are many reasons why Iowa, Iowa State, UNI, and Drake should all play each other every year. The women have been doing it for a while, and it always makes for high quality basketball in front of a packed stadium with fans from both teams. There’s no reason why the men’s teams shouldn’t replicate this formula.