AMES, Iowa - When Iowa and Iowa State changed basketball coaches before the 2010-11 season, the schools took different paths towards rebuilding once-proud programs. On-lookers wondered which way would be the most successful.
On Friday night here at Hilton Coliseum, it was evident that Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones had a leg up, at least in the short term. Iowa State cruised past the Hawkeyes, 86-76. Iowa showed a no-quit attitude, reducing its deficit to eight points in the closing seconds, but it proved to be too little, too late.
Hoiberg chose to jump start his team with a mix of transfers and high school recruits. Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Royce White, who came to Ames with a checkered past, made his coach look pretty good on this night. Chris Babb (Penn State) and Chris Allen (Michigan State) looked pretty good, too.
McCaffery's guys played hard, but were clearly over-matched, if only in composure. He has a lot of freshmen and sophomores that struggled with the experienced Cyclones, especially early on in the action.
Some fans wondered if Hoiberg's blend of merry transfers could come together as a team. It hadn't happened until Friday, when they were clearly psyched up to play their cross-state rivals.
The game was tied at 11-11 five minutes into it when White (17 points, eight rebounds, three assist, two blocks) went to work. He sparked a Cyclones' 24-8 run. They led 48-27 at halftime and cruised after the intermission (maybe too much).
"We weren't playing up to our potential," Iowa sophomore Melsahn Basabe said. "We were playing like we were in fright night because of the crowd; because of the environment. We weren't really guarding anybody."
McCaffery didn't feel like his team succumbed to the tough road environment.
"How could they not notice the intensity?," the Iowa coach said. "It wasn't that. We didn't execute."
While Iowa State's mixture looked cohesive, the Hawkeyes looked a lot like they have the last two seasons - a collection of Lickliter, half-court players combined with McCaffery's up-tempo recruits.
McCaffery tried everything on Friday. Defensively, man, zone and the press, proved equally ineffective, for the most part. On offense, the majority of the Hawkeyes looked indecisive.
The good news for Iowa? Well, Devyn Marble, a sophomore, continued to show he's the best player on the team. He dropped in a career-high 21 points
Marble's classmate, Basabe, chipped in with 18 points and nine boards. It was the second game in a row that the sophomores reached double figures in scoring. They've given hope for the future.
"It's mental toughness," Marble said. "We need to play for 40 minutes. We don't do that quite yet."
Iowa played without senior point guard Bryce Cartwright for most of the night. He logged six minutes early before his hamstring injury kept him out of the rest of the game.
Iowa showed a lot of heart here and at Northern Iowa on Tuesday. What the Hawkeyes needed was more pieces, particularly ones that can shoot. The Hawkeyes have been missing way too many easy shots for much of the season and the defense has been far too transparent.
McCaffery likes to use pressure defense to spark his offense. He just doesn't have the personnel to make that happen right now.
Iowa sits at 5-5. There are three non-league games remaining until the Big Ten gets started.The Hawkeyes get a week off for finals before playing host to Drake on the 17th.
"We'll work on defense, which we have been for a while," Iowa Senior Matt Gatens said. "It's disappointing. It seems like we haven't made many strides."
The Hawkeyes left Hilton searching for answers, while Iowa State hoped they'd turned the corner. The Cyclones now have won three games in a row in the series.
"It's great to say that you've never been beat by the Hawkeyes," ISU Senior Scott Christopherson said.
McCaffery believes his rebuilding strategy can change that course.
"It's just a matter of time before this team really turns it on," Hoiberg said. "They've got talent. Hopefully, we'll have a great rivalry for years to come."