N. Iowa-Iowa Preview
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The Hy-Vee Classic soon will be going the way of the low-top Converse, the four-corner offense and really, really short basketball shorts.
After seven years of in-state rivals squaring off, the Hy-Vee Classic will disappear into the Iowa cornfields for good when No. 22 Iowa and Northern Iowa tip off Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
The 7-2 Hawkeyes will have had plenty of time to prepare for the Panthers, who start four guards and 212-pound Luke McDonnell at center. Iowa last played Dec. 9, defeating Iowa State.
The 4-5 Panthers also have had some time to get ready after beating the University of Dubuque on Dec 8. And despite their sub-.500 record, head coach Ben Jacobson sees some light at the end of the tunnel.
"I like what we're doing (offensively), but we've got to make some adjustments," said Jacobson, who is in his 13th season with Panthers and has guided them to four NCAA Tournaments and four NCAA wins. "We have to get better fundamentally. We have to get that ball into the paint more often, whether it's with the dribble or we throw it inside."
A pair of dynamic freshman and longtime friends will be on opposite sides when the two teams meet. Iowa's Joe Wieskamp ranks third on Iowa in scoring (10.1 ppg) and second in rebounding (5.3 rpg).
Wieskamp sprained an ankle on Dec. 3 but was healthy enough to see 20 minutes against Iowa State.
"He's still not a hundred percent but he's getting closer," Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said.
Northern Iowa's superstar freshman, A.J. Green, leads the Panthers in scoring at 15.8 points per game. He ranks in the top 25 in NCAA free-throw percentage at 92.6 percent.
"His game is pretty complete. He can dribble, pass and shoot. He's got size. He can score in bunches. He can load people up," McCaffrey said.
"He's always played the game with great confidence, and sometimes you see that not translate, but that's not been the case with him. He's kind of playing with the same kind of confidence and aggressiveness that he always has."
Wieskamp and Green are pals off the court having played club basketball together since sixth grade.
"It's going to be a lot of fun playing against him and UNI," Wieskamp told The (Waterloo) Courier. "I have a lot of respect for their program. They recruited me. ... If it would have been last year (when UNI and Iowa played), I wouldn't have had that opportunity, so I'm thankful to be able to play them."
Wieskamp, a two-time Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year, finished his career as Class 4A's all-time leading scorer with 2,376 points.
Green recorded a historic season, knocking down a single-season 4A record 119 3-pointers at a 48.8 percent success rate.
"This has been both of our dreams," Green said. "I know it's always been his dream to play at Iowa, and he works very hard. To see him starting now and playing at the next level is really cool, and I think he probably feels the same way about me."
Wieskamp shoulders less of a burden than Green as the Hawkeyes are led by Tyler Cook and Luka Garza. Cook averages a team-high 16.6 points per game and shoots 56 percent from the field while also pacing Hawkeyes in rebounds.
Garza is the man in the middle for the Hawkeyes, averaging 12 points.
Nicholas Baer has been red-hot from 3-point range recently, making nine of his last 15 attempts over the last four games against Pitt, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Iowa State.
If that wasn't enough, Baer has thrived at Wells Fargo and the Hy-Vee Classic averaging 11.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, three blocks and 2.3 steals in wins over Drake (2015, 2017) and Northern Iowa (2016).
"He is incredibly versatile and is playing really well," McCaffery said of Baer. "When you're playing with that kind of confidence, you impact the game in so many different ways and that's what he does."
McCaffery might have another surprise weapon in Cordell Pemsl, who was declared out for the season after deciding to have surgery on his right knee. The pain subsided and the 6-foot-8 Pemsl actually played against the Cyclones, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds.
He says his knee feels fine and is a day-to-day.
Updated December 14, 2018