Northern Iowa (6-3) vs. Iowa (8-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 15, 2:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Wells Fargo Arena (15,855) -- Des Moines, Iowa. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: UNI 5-0, Iowa 7-0. Away Record: UNI 1-0, Iowa 0-1. Neutral Record: UNI 0-3, Iowa 1-1. Conference Record: UNI 0-0, Iowa 0-0. Series Record: Iowa leads, 33-9.
GAME NOTES: Having come up empty during their trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis event last month, the Northern Iowa Panthers again try to pick up a victory on a neutral floor on Saturday as they match up against the Iowa Hawkeyes as part of the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
The Panthers, who lost three games in three days against the likes of Louisville, Stanford and Memphis in Nassau, have rebounded well to generate three wins in as many chances. The most recent of those victories came against George Mason in overtime last weekend on the road, 82-77.
Northern Iowa has played in this building only one time previously, but the outcome was favorable as the team posted a 68-46 triumph over Western Carolina back in 2005.
As for Iowa, which leads the all-time series between the two squads by a count of 33-9 entering play this weekend, it too is riding a three-game win streak after losing back-to-back bouts versus Wichita State and Virginia Tech. The Hawkeyes, who don't leave the state of Iowa until visiting Big Ten rival Michigan on Jan. 6, 2013, most recently dumped another in-state rival in Iowa State on Dec. 7 in an 80-71 decision.
Also included in this event is a clash between Drake and Iowa State, who will play in the late game.
The Panthers had the odds stacked against them when they visited a George Mason squad which had won 14 straight home games, but after playing an additional five minutes UNI was able to rise to the occasion and pick up the victory. The team knocked down all eight chances at the free-throw line in the bonus session as they outscored the Patriots by six at the charity stripe overall. Marc Sonnen converted 7-of-10 shots beyond the arc as he tallied a game-high 21 points, followed by Anthony James with 19 and Seth Tuttle 18 points. Tuttle, who scored just two points in each of the outings in the Bahamas, has stepped up with double digits during this three-game win streak and is now up to 9.4 ppg. Thanks to 45 total points in the first two games of the campaign against Wartburg and Toledo, Deon Mitchell remains the leading scorer overall for the program with 12.5 ppg. Sonnen, a 43.1 percent shooter beyond the arc, accounts for another 10.0 ppg for a team that is outscoring the competition by close to 10 ppg.
Even with both Mike Gesell and Roy Devyn Marble shooting just 2-of-10 from the floor and combining to make 1-of-10 behind the three-point line, the Hawkeyes still played well enough to come away with the nine-point home win versus the Cyclones last week. Gesell and Marble did pick up the pace at the defensive end of the floor where both logged three steals as the team forced 19 turnovers. Gesell finished with 11 points, trailing only Aaron White and Anthony Clemmons with 18 and 14 points, respectively, the latter also handing out eight assists. Over the course of 10 games, Iowa is forcing just over 15 turnovers per contest and that has limited foes to an average of just 62.6 ppg, which gives the Hawkeyes a comfortable margin of victory most of the time. White is responsible for 14.1 ppg and is also first with 6.5 rpg, which should be enough of a reason for him to refrain from moving out to the perimeter on offense where he has connected on only 2-of-16 shots to this point.
These rivalry games generally take on a life of their own, regardless of how the teams have played up until this point which is why you have to think that Gesell and Marble will have a better showing after resting for more than a week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa 63, Northern Iowa 60
12/15 10:31:32 ET