DES MOINES - The Cyclones and Hawkeyes are at the forefront of a basketball resurgence in Iowa.
Each team is ranked and drawing sellout crowds, well ahead of conference play.
They've also overshadowed a surprisingly strong start by Drake. The Bulldogs (6-1) were picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, but so far they're thriving under first-year coach Ray Giacoletti.
Drake will get a chance to really make a statement when it faces No. 23 Iowa (8-1) Saturday in Des Moines at the Big 4 Classic after No. 17 Iowa State (6-0) kicks off the doubleheader against Northern Iowa (3-4).
The second annual event replaced the old home-and-home scheduling arrangements between the Hawkeyes, Cyclones and their Missouri Valley rivals.
"We're playing a team that's 6-1 and won three games in three days. I don't know what else you have to do to get people's attention," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Drake. "When the players watch film, they can tell who the good teams are. If you're playing a bad team and you're showing film and you're trying to get them to understand how we've got to play every game, there's always that element of, 'You know, I don't know.' In this case, it won't be hard at all. It's clearly obvious how good this team is."
Iowa St. vs. UNI, 5 p.m. at Big Four Classic, Des Moines (M) (MC22, CFU 15)
Iowa vs. Drake, 7:30 p.m. at Big Four Classic, Des Moines (M) (MC22)
Drake hasn't faced anyone as talented as Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are seventh nationally with 90 points per game and are shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range. They've got 10 players with at least five points a game, led by Devyn Marble (16.8) and Aaron White (13.8).
Iowa excels at pushing the tempo and using its depth to wear down opponents. That could be an issue for a Drake team that leans heavily on guards Richard Carter (20.6 points a game) and Gary Ricks (12.7).
"They're very deep, very long and all 10 guys can score," Giacoletti said. "We need to be able to get them out of a full court game into a halfcourt game and just do your best to limit them to one shot in the halfcourt game. And we've got to be able to rebound."
The opener between Iowa State and Northern Iowa will feature two teams with differing philosophies on offense.
The Cyclones like to go as fast as they can - and no one has been able to stop them yet. The Panthers are much more deliberate, but so far they've yet to discover a winning identity.
Iowa State is averaging 91.8 points per game, fourth-best in the country, thanks in large part to their tremendous knack for sharing the ball.
Iowa State has 123 assists on 195 baskets and has turned it over just 67 times despite often playing at a frenetic pace. The Cyclones are also one of just three teams nationally with six players averaging at least 10 points a game.
"You want an unselfish group that's willing to make the extra pass. Nobody's concerned about their numbers, and that's been evident," coach Fred Hoiberg said.
None of Northern Iowa's losses (at Ohio, Milwaukee and George Mason, and to Maryland in the Virgin Islands) have been bad ones, so to speak. But the Panthers need to turn things around and Iowa State represents a great chance for them to do just that.
Coach Ben Jacobson is 5-1 against Iowa State, and UNI's slower pace could frustrate the Cyclones.
"They're such a disciplined team. They do a great job of building a wall. It's hard to score on them in transition," Hoiberg said. "They do a great job of controlling tempo, and what you've got to do is get out and get a couple of easy ones in transition if you can."