Many of the Iowa basketball players remember quite well what happened when the Hawkeyes traveled to Cedar Falls to face Northern Iowa last season.
The Panthers used a 21-2 run midway through the second half and pasted the Hawkeyes by 20 before going on to win the mythical state championship.
Iowa hopes it has learned from that game as both teams will meet again in the first installment of the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday.
"We definitely know what they are capable of," senior captain Eric May said. "This is a good team, and we are going to have to bring it, bring the energy and bring the focus."
Iowa is a much different team than it was last year. The Hawkeyes feature three freshmen in the starting lineup and the defense is holding opponents to 10 fewer points per game than it did last season. But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery knows that won't guarantee his Hawkeyes anything when the game tips off the doubleheader at 1:30 p.m.
"UNI has a lot of weapons, and those are the kind of teams that give you trouble," McCaffery said. "They spread you out and everyone on the roster can shoot 3s. And they are substantially more athletic than I think anybody gives them credit for. I never really understood that."
Iowa (8-2) vs. Northern Iowa (6-3)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
At Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
TV: Big Ten Network
The Big Four Classic kicks off a new way of handling the long-standing series between the four major universities in Iowa. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones will now only play either Drake or Northern Iowa in a given season and both will do so on the same day at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Saturday, Iowa and Northern Iowa tip off at 1:30 p.m., while Drake looks to make it two in a row against the Cyclones at 4 p.m.
"It will be a great day of basketball," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said.
"It's an opportunity for all four programs to be in the same building and an opportunity to see two great basketball games."
The change of not playing both Drake and Northern Iowa in home and homes each year was pushed by Iowa and Iowa State agreed to it. McCaffery said Wednesday that he doesn't feel like things will ever go back to the way they used to be.
McCaffery thought his team lacked toughness in last year's loss to Northern Iowa. He knows his team is tougher this year but the squad will still have to prove that Saturday against a Panthers squad that has been the most consistent instate program over the last five seasons.
"We definitely need to be tougher," Iowa forward Zach McCabe said. "That was a big difference last year. The loss is motivating though."
Iowa (8-2) is coming off a big emotional win over Iowa State and is riding a three-game win streak. Northern Iowa also has won three straight games, including a road victory that ended George Mason's 14-game home win streak. The Panthers also are battle-tested, having lost to Stanford and nationally ranked Memphis and Louisville.
"I just look at this game as another good team on our schedule that we are trying to beat," McCaffery said. "I look at it as an opportunity to play another team I consider to be one of the premier teams on our schedule."
Northern Iowa is led by Deon Mitchell, Marc Sonnen and Jake Koch. Mitchell leads the team in scoring and assists at 12.5 and 3.1, respectively, while Sonnen is averaging 10 points per game. Koch also can score in bunches and is leading the team in rebounding at 6.3 per game.
"They are very good and very dangerous and we cannot let them get too hot," Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. "They also are very disciplined."
Iowa is led by sophomore Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble, who have both scored in double-figures in nine of the 10 games this season. White averages a team-best 14 points and 6.5 rebounds, while Marble is second in scoring at 13.6 but also pulls down 4.3 rebounds. Gesell averages 8.5 points and is one of the team's best 3-point shooters, while true freshman center Adam Woodbury is averaging 7.2 points and five boards per game.
Anthony Clemmons also replaced McCabe in the starting lineup the past two games and has 16 assists to just one turnover in those contests. He also had 14 points in the win over Iowa State.