One of college basketball’s distinctive events is coming to a close after this season.
The Hy-Vee Classic, formerly the Big Four Classic, which has put the state of Iowa’s four Division I programs under one roof for a doubleheader each season since 2012 will have its last edition this December with the University of Iowa electing to exercise its option to pull out of the event with the Big Ten’s move to 20 conference games.
“The addition of two conference games is good for our fans, the Big Ten Conference and our strength of schedule,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement, “but unfortunately it created some scheduling challenges that impacts this event.”
The event was unique as it pit the state’s two Power 5 institutions – Iowa and Iowa State – against its two Missouri Valley Conference programs – Northern Iowa and Drake – on a rotating basis each season in the state capital of Des Moines. One year Iowa State would play Drake while Iowa would face Northern Iowa with the following year featuring Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa and Iowa vs. Drake. And so on and so forth for the last six years and ending after one last go-round this December.
The event was a sort of compromise to keep the intrastate series alive after years of both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones playing home-and-homes with Drake and Northern Iowa most years, putting them on the road in hostile MVC arenas.
That went away in 2012 and doesn’t appear to be likely to return with the dissolution of the yearly doubleheader.
“Although we would certainly welcome continuing to play games against UNI or Drake in the future,” Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said in a statement, “our ability to do that will most likely depend on each of their institution’s willingness to play games in Hilton Coliseum.”
Needless to say, Drake and UNI were not pleased with Iowa’s decision to force the end of the event.
“What has made our state unique on the college basketball landscape was the willingness and cooperation between the state’s four Division I universities to play each other on a regular basis,” Drake athletic director Brian Hardin said in a statement. “I understand the position that Iowa and Iowa State believe they are in. However, it is a sad day for passionate basketball fans of all four programs who have enjoyed nearly a century of history and rivalries between these four schools that were played in various great venues in our state.”
When the event was initially announced, it always felt like it was intended to act as a wind-down for Iowa and Iowa State – who will continue to face each other in on-campus games every year – of the mid-major games that were popular with fans but not always with Hawkeyes and Cyclones coaches. Given the option, few Power 5 coaches are going to be excited about facing a lower-tier in-state rival every year anywhere other than its home floor.
Still, it’s a major loss for a unique situation in a small-population state that is not home to professional sports, but four Division I men’s hoops programs. College athletics is the passion in Iowa, and depriving the state’s fans of what were – if not national marquee – fun and interesting matchups that carry with them pride and bragging rights is a step in the wrong direction.
Ultimately, these games are likely going to be replaced on the schedules for the Cyclones and Hawkeyes with low-major opponents that won’t move the needle either at the gate or on their NCAA tournament resumes. Instead of an innovative event that against a co-worker’s or neighbor’s alma mater, Iowa and Iowa State fans can say hello to a steady diet of games against Bryant, Campbell and Maryland Eastern Shore while Drake and UNI get relegated to even more pronounced second-class status.
The move isn’t surprising, but it is disappointing.
2K Classic field, featuring Cuse vs. UConn, will be fun
The schedule for the 2018 2K Classic has been released, and you have to credit the organizers because, once again, they found a way to get this right.
Let’s start with the obvious: Syracuse and UConn will be facing off for the fourth straight season. And for the third season in a row, that game will be played in New York City. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but for those that don’t know, UConn and Syracuse fans both have a massive presence in New York City and since the dawn of time — or at least the dawn of the Big East — they have fought amongst each other for the title of New York City’s college basketball team.
Typically, that war was waged during the Big East tournament. These days, the battlefield is Madison Square Garden for a non-conference game before winter officially starts. Either way, that game is always one of the best and most entertaining non-conference atmospheres, and this year should be no different, as UConn will have a new coach digging the program out of a whole and Syracuse, with Tyus Battle back, looks like a top 25 team.
On the other side of the bracket, Oregon has the talent on their roster to be a top 15 team while Iowa brings enough back to be sneaky-relevant in the Big Ten. Cuse-UConn with a Cuse-Oregon title game is pretty good for a preseason tournament of this nature.
The Winners: Which college basketball teams got helped the most by NBA draft early entries
Mark Few will once again have a team that is going to contend for a national title this season, as the Bulldogs returned their two most important pieces in the front court in Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura.
The Zags were going to be good without them, but with that pair in the mix, Gonzaga has a real case to be the No. 1 team in the country heading into the preseason. They also return Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins and Corey Kispert while adding transfer Brandon Clarke. That is a very good core, but the reason they are going to be among the nation’s elite is because of that front court.
Tillie and Rui are both terrific athletes that will create mismatches and space the floor, and Rui has a real chance to develop into a top ten pick next season. This will be Gonzaga’s best team since … well, since they made the national title game in 2017.
The ‘Hoos are coming off an utter embarrassment at the hands of No. 16-seed UMBC in the NCAA tournament, but the good news is that they are going to once again have a team that will be in the mix for an ACC regular season title and a top three seed.
That is because they got De’Andre Hunter back. It’s his versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season. Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.
With Hunter, Virginia has some depth issues but still looks like a top ten team on paper.
The Wolf Pack couldn’t stop adding pieces to their roster during the spring.
Not only did Eric Musselman clean up on the recruiting trail, adding Jordan Brown and a pair of grad transfers, but he managed to get both Caleb and Cody Martin to return to school along with Jordan Caroline. Those could end up being three of the five players on the preseason all-Mountain West team, and with those three back in the fold, Nevada — coming off of a run to the Sweet 16 — has enough talent on their roster to legitimately be considered a threat to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This is the best MWC team since Kawhi and Jimmer were burning that conference to the ground. It’s a good time to live in Reno.
WHOEVER LANDS REID TRAVIS
The Stanford grad transfer immediately became the most important player in the college basketball news cycle when he announced that he will be returning to school but leaving the Cardinal program. A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 boards, he’s a player that has been linked to both Kentucky and Villanova, two programs that got hit hard during the draft process and could use some interior depth. It’s not crazy to think that where he ends up going will become the favorite to win the 2019 national title.
The Orange were a weird team last season. They played a plodding pace and won because they could absolutely lock up defensively and they had Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett to carry them offensively. Brissett announced that he will be returning to school back in April, but Battle waited until just a couple of hours before the deadline to make it official.
And it’s Battle that is the key. Syracuse should have a little more shooting this season that they did last year with Buddy Boeheim in the mix, but this is still a group that is going to rely quite a bit on Battle to create points for them. He is the difference between the back-end of the preseason top 25 and a .500 season.
THE BIG TEN
Other than Maryland, was there a Big Ten team that didn’t get good news when it came time for players that were testing the waters to make their decisions?
Michigan will not be losing their three best scorers now that Charles Matthews is returning to school. They’ll be a preseason top 25 team when the polls are released.
Purdue not only returned Nojel Eastern, but they bring back Carsen Edwards, who could end being a preseason first-team all-american.
Ethan Happ returns to anchor a Wisconsin program that seems to be on the verge of a resurgence.
Indiana not only landed Romeo Langford, but they brought back Juwan Morgan, who is the perfect player for an Archie Miller-coached team.
Nebraska looks like a tournament team with both James Palmer and Isaac Copeland back in the mix.
Iowa brought back both Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss.
Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, but they did get Nick Ward back.
I think the Spartans will be the best team in the Big Ten next season, but I’m not all that confident in that. What I do know is that there are going to be six or seven teams that can compete for the league title, and that with all these players coming back, there is going to be much more depth in the conference this season.
The SEC also brought seemingly everyone that was on the fence back, which means that the conference, as a whole, is going to be loaded at the top with plenty of depth. Hell, the SEC might just be the best league in college basketball next season look at this:
Arkansas got perhaps the biggest gift as Daniel Gafford, a potential lottery pick, opted to return for his sophomore season.
Auburn lost Mustapha Heron but brought back Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy and will enter the season as a top 15 team.
Tennessee brings back Admiral Schofield and looks like they might push to be a No. 1 seed.
Missouri lost Michael Porter Jr. but they bring back his brother Jontay.
Tremont Waters is back at LSU, making them a top 25 team.
Mississippi State had four players declare and four players opt to return to school. They will be a top 15 team.
Florida got Jalen Hudson back for his fifth-year.
Even Kentucky, who lost a handful of key pieces, brought back P.J Washington and Quade Green and still might add Reid Travis.
There is a lot to like about the SEC next year.
The deadline couldn’t have gone much better for the Bruins, as they returned all three of the players that declared for the draft not named Aaron Holiday: Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Cody Riley. Steve Alford has a roster that is talented enough that it should win the Pac-12 next season. We’ll see if the Bruins can live up to the expectations.
THE DEADLINE WAS GOOD TO THEM
KANSAS: The Jayhawks were always going to be really good, but getting Udoka Azubuike back means they’ll have arguably the best low-post presence in the country next season.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels probably weren’t really in jeopardy of losing Luke Maye to the NBA, but he did declare and he did return to school. UNC will be a top ten team next season.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers got both Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate back, meaning that it will be that much easier for them to weather the storm of losing Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles.
CLEMSON: The Tigers are once again going to be a top 25 team with both Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed pulling out of the draft.
WASHINGTON: With Noah Dickerson back, are the Huskies the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season?
SAN DIEGO STATE: Jalen McDaniels came on strong late in the season and should be a star for the Aztecs in 2018-19.
ST. JOHN’S: Getting Shamorie Ponds back was a good thing. Adding Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron for the 2018-19 season would be a great thing.
Iowa guard Isaiah Moss returning for junior season
After testing the NBA draft process, Iowa guard Isaiah Moss announced Tuesday that he has decided to return for his redshirt junior season at the school.
Moss was one of four double-digit scorers for the Hawkeyes last season, averaging 11.1 points per game while shooting 42.0 percent from the field, 38.6 percent from three and 87.9 percent from the foul line. In addition to the scoring Moss averaged 2.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for an Iowa team that finished the 2017-18 season with a 14-19 overall record (4-14 Big Ten).
Cook’s decision to return means that three of Iowa’s top four scorers are certain to be back, with guard Jordan Bohannon (13.5 ppg, 5.4 apg) entering his junior season and forward Luka Garza (12.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) set to be a sophomore. The lone question mark one day ahead of the NCAA’s deadline for early entrants to declare their intentions to return to school is forward Tyler Cook, and his return would be a big deal for a program that’s hoping to rebound from a disappointing season.
As a sophomore Cook led the Hawkeyes in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 St. Louis native was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, and as a freshman he was a member of the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team.
While the return of all four double-digit scorers would not guarantee a turnaround for Iowa, it certainly wouldn’t hurt with the process.
Iowa’s McCaffery: ‘I’ve turned programs in’ for cheating
There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.
Not for Fran McCaffery, though.
The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.
“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”
Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.
McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.
“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”
Fran McCaffery’s son, a four-star prospect, commits to Iowa
“it may come as a big surprise,” Patrick wrote on social media, “but i have decided to commit to play for my father at the University of Iowa!! Go hawks”
Patrick becomes the second McCaffery boy to commit to Fran’s program. Connor joined Iowa this year as a freshman, though he’ll redshirt this season while playing baseball for the Hawkeyes.
Patrick is a 6-foot-7 combo forward with range, athleticism and skill. He’s no simple legacy recruit as he’s a potential major-impact player, ranked as high as 30th overall in his class by both Rivals and ESPN.
Beyond that, Patrick McCaffery’s path to high-level recruit has been inspiring. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in March of 2014, and had surgery to remove a malignant tumor before being declared cancer-free in June of that year. He, playing alongside his brother, averaged 13.8 points per game as a sophomore last year for his state champion Iowa City West team.