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Drake and Northern Iowa with a Hy-Vee opportunity

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament-Wichita State Shockers vs Northern Iowa Panthers
Bennett Koch & Klint Carlson lead UNI into the Hy-Vee Classic
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The State of Iowa gets it! In some wonderful act of providence, the Hawkeye State has given us an annual double header involving two Missouri Valley Conference teams and the state’s two power five schools.

Saturday’s Hy-Vee Classic, this year’s celebration of Division I basketball in Iowa, takes place at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena with Drake battling Iowa, and Northern Iowa taking on Iowa State. These games used to rotate to the various campuses, but the Big Ten and Big 12 representatives in this event balked and the Big Four Classic was born. At least it’s at a neutral site.

Other states, are you listening?

How will the Valley schools hold up against their mighty “money conference” foes? If history is our teacher, the mid-majors might just jump up and do some damage.

Drake Bulldogs (5-5) v. Iowa Hawkeyes (5-6) @ 1pm – Big Ten Network

Drake is coming off a one-point defeat at Minnesota, proving they belong on the big stage. First-year head coach Niko Medved’s second game this season was a 77-74 upset victory over Wake Forest, so the former Furman coach knows how to prepare for the higher-priced opposition.

How do they matchup with their Big 10 foe? Well, as their twitter page proclaims, they are “Shooter U.”

Led by senior guard Reed Timmer, the Bulldogs boast of four players scoring in double figures and are deadly from outside. Drake makes more than 42 percent of their shots from long distance and averages 82 points per game.

Timmer, a preseason all-MVC player, is one of the top-10 scorers in Bulldog history ,and is averaging 20.7 points per game while making 53 percent of his three-point attempts. Theother double-digit scorers are guards Graham Woodward (11.7) and De’Antae McMurray (11.6 PPG), and forward Nick McGlynn (10.3 PPG).

Drake won four of its first five games, but victories have been tough to come by since Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Iowa snapped a four-game losing streak with a Sunday afternoon win over Southern University.

Iowa’s explosive Tyler Cook is its leading scorer (12.8 PPG) and rebounder (6.8 per game). The 6’9 St. Louis-native played with Boston Celtics’ rookie Jayson Tatum in high school and will be a matchup nightmare for Medved’s squad.

Guard Jordan Bohannon’s family is legendary in Iowa. His father played quarterback for the Hawkeyes, and two older brothers played college basketball, with Matt Bohannon playing for Northern Iowa. Bohannon was part of last year’s All-Big Ten Freshman Team and is averaging 12.5 points and 4.5 assists per game for coach Fran McCaffery’s team.

Two teams desperately in need of a win before a sold out Wells Fargo Arena crowd should provide for some entertaining basketball.

Northern Iowa Panthers (8-2) v. Iowa State Cyclones (7-2) – 3:30 pm (Mediacom)

Northern Iowa loves this stage! The Panthers have won two of their last three games in the Hy-Vee Classic. They’ve defeated Iowa State seven of the last ten meetings and coach Ben (Jake the Giant Killer) Jacobson is 6-2 against the Cyclones.

UNI puts its faith in defense. Jacobson’s team is third nationally in scoring defense (57.3 points per game) and third in field goal percentage defense (.357). The Panthers don’t block a lot of shots, they just play solid, fundamental, make-you-take-bad-shots defense.

Bennett Koch is the third Koch brother to have played for Northern Iowa and the third to score 30 points in a collegiate game. The 6’9 senior leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game. Only Juwan McCloud (10.5 ppg) joins Koch in double-figure scoring, but Klint Carlson and emerging freshman star Tywhon Pickford both average more than nine points. The 6’4 Pickford is averaging 10.1 rebounds per game.

The Panthers are just getting healthy. Guard Wyatt Lohaus and four others are finally fully integrated into the rotation.

True to Cyclone coach Steve Prohm’s nature, Iowa State likes to create offensive opportunities. Donovan Jackson (17.3 PPG), Lindell Wigginton (16.2 PPG) and Nick Babb (12.8 PGG) spark an offense that averages 78 points per game, compared to UNI’s 69. The 6’5 Babb also leads the team in rebounding (6.8) and assists (7.9) per game. He is second in the Big 12 in assists.

Who controls the tempo of this contest will determine the winner. The Panthers want to slow the game down and minimize possessions, while the Cyclones want to speed things up.

Northern Iowa’s Koch and Carlson have to do damage in the paint if the Panthers are to pick up their second power five win this year.