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Column

Do the Hawkeyes owe UNI?

We have reached the point in the college basketball season where Northern Iowa fans start calling out the University of Iowa for not playing them every year.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to limit my sports banter on Twitter so when I saw earlier this week that the big argument on the website was each fanbase defending their school, I chose to stay out of it.

Mondays are extremely busy for me and my daughter gets out of school early so I have much more pressing things on my plate than arguing with mid-major college basketball fans.

I have nothing against Northern Iowa. I actually want them to do well, especially now that they don’t play the Hawkeyes on the hardwood anymore.

But Iowa doesn’t owe UNI anything.

Look around at the rest of the country.

No. 1 Baylor’s non-conference schedule included Jackson State, Tennessee-Martin, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Coastal Carolina. And all four went to Waco.

Duke, another national power which has been No. 1 this year, played Georgia State, Central Arkansas, Winthrop, Wofford and Brown in the non-conference season. And none of those games were on the road.

Kentucky played home games with USC Upstate, Akron and North Carolina Central.

My point is, those schools aren’t traveling into mid-major gyms either.

It’s not necessarily anything against mid-majors. It’s the way college basketball is set up these days.

Iowa plays a 20-game Big Ten Conference schedule. The Hawkeyes play in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and they play in the Gavitt Games. Throw in a holiday tournament and there is really only four or five games to play with.

One of those games goes to Iowa State. And this year’s game was in Ames.

That leaves about four more games that must be played at home. And like most universities, Iowa is paying someone to come into their gym and take a whooping.

I would guess Iowa would be willing to pay UNI to play inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I don’t know that situation. But the days of Iowa doing home and homes with the Panthers and Drake are over.

There are not enough games to schedule and they won’t take away home games from their annual budget.

UNI doesn’t really need Iowa either. The Panthers are currently ranked 34th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, which is part of what the selection committee will use to determine the NCAA Tournament field later this season.

The Panthers are 38th in Ken Pom and 54th in Sagarin. Those are two other analytical sites that will be used to determine seeds for the tournament.

UNI is in a tough spot. There’s no doubt about that. The Missouri Valley Conference is typically a one-bid league. If you win Arch Madness in St. Louis, you get in and it’s so hard for anyone else to earn a bid.

The Panthers are currently 22-3. If they win out and reach the semifinals or finals of the MVC tournament and lose, they might get an at-large bid. But it’s not likely.

That win over Colorado looks good right now. But the win over South Carolina doesn’t hold a ton of weight as the Gamecocks are only 65th in the NET rankings.

That’s worse than Cincinnati (47) and Texas Tech (17), both of which Iowa defeated in its non-conference schedule earlier this season.

Iowa decided to dump the Big Four Classic in Des Moines. Iowa State also was on board with that decision but it was Iowa which made the first move.

The Hawkeyes replaced the Big Four Classic this year with the game against Cincinnati that took place in Chicago.

That win over Cincinnati will look a lot better to the committee later this season than a win over UNI would have. I am not saying it should, but I think it definitely will.

My one final argument in this debate is this. UNI is 22-3 overall but the NET rankings only register the Panthers at 20-3. The two games they played against NCAA Division III Cornell and Luther do not count toward their rating in the NET.

You can’t make the argument about how Iowa won’t play you and then schedule games against Cornell and Luther. UNI is doing what it should do though. It is getting home games the Panthers are guaranteed to win each year.

Both Iowa and UNI are in the middle of strong seasons. And the future is bright for both programs. Let’s focus on that and stop worrying about why these two teams don’t play each other.

Contact Troy Hyde
at thyde@newtondailynews.com

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