Non-conference basketball: Why bother?

It’s the first day of basketball season.

December 17 will be the sixth time that Iowa State, Iowa, UNI, and Drake will play in Des Moines as part of the Big Four Hy-Vee Classic. (Nope, can’t have anything not corporate in the name, no siree.) Each of the first two teams plays one of the last two on a rotating basis. The event exists because Iowa State and Iowa didn’t want to keep doing home-and-homes with two teams from the Missouri Valley conference. (That conference just happens to be the most powerful of the non-power conferences, but I digress.)

Scheduling in men’s basketball is a different animal than football because there are more games. There are fewer non-conference slots available than there used to be, but still plenty. There are many examples of power-conference teams doing home-and-home series with local teams; Nebraska and Creighton will play for the 41st straight season next month. On the other hand, some do hold out, and the most notable exception is Kansas refusing to schedule Wichita State. (The Shockers, BTW, are a preseason top-10 team.)

But what, exactly, was the problem with going to UNI and Drake? The games are very short bus rides, the opposing team’s arena is half-full of your fans, and it counts as a true road game for RPI purposes. Just because Fran McCaffery can’t control his temper isn’t a reason to take your ball and go home.

The best possible explanation — not playing UNI and Drake each season frees up a slot for higher-caliber opponents — doesn’t hold up on the merits. Iowa State will be playing two directional Illinois teams and two HBCUs. Iowa will play three HBCUs (two officially as part of the Cayman Islands Classic, but in Iowa City). ISU and Iowa both open with a power-conference opponent and play one more in a conference challenge — and each other. There’s no reason that Iowa and ISU should both play Northern Illinois and not Northern Iowa — other than, of course, losing out on home-court lucre THEY SKEERED.

As for that opening power-conference opponent, suddenly that Missouri Tigers team is looking more ferocious for Iowa State. This is the second time in three years ISU will play a Big Eight/Big 12 turncoat, and my feelings about that have already been made known.

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