IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa returns to the court Saturday for the first time since rival Iowa State embarrassed the Hawkeyes at home last week. Perhaps the seven-day lay-off for finals allows them to recharge and refocus.
Iowa faces a formidable foe in the University of Northern Iowa (6:30 p.m., BTN) at Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena. Iowa State takes on Drake in the day's first game of the Big Four Classic, which celebrates its third year.
The Hawkeyes sit at 8-3 with two non-conference games remaining. They play host North Florida on Monday before opening Big Ten play at Ohio State on Dec. 30.
UNI (9-1) was unbeaten and ranked 23rd nationally last week before losing, 93-87, in double overtime at Virginia Commonwealth Saturday. The Panthers have split their last 12 meetings with Iowa.
Iowa State led the Hawkeyes by five at halftime before using a 21-2 run early in the second half to cruise to a 90-75 win. The Cyclones scored on 10 possessions in a row after the break and demoralized the home team.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery was faced with rebuilding his team's confidence this week after such extreme failure in a much-anticipated and hyped match-up.
"You're reasonable about it," he said after ISU contest. "You know, you've got to encourage them. You've got to get them believing again because they clearly had some doubt tonight."
The Hawkeyes finished 1-3 against Power Five Conference schools during their pre-league slate. They won at then-No. 12 North Carolina but dropped games to Texas and Syracuse in New York City to go along with the Cyclone setback.
A win against the Panthers could prove a much-needed boost to Iowa's NCAA Tournament resume. Per the RPI on ESPN, the Hawkeyes currently are No. 85 nationally and ninth in the Big Ten. UNI stands at No. 25 in the country and North Florida is 146.
Saturday's outcome comes down to which team executes better. Players on both sides know each other's strengths and weakness from running together in the Prime Time League.
The Panthers will be motived to knock off one of the state's "big" schools to strengthen their resume. With 10 players on their roster hailing from within the state's borders, they'll view this as one of the biggest games on their schedule.
Senior big man Seth Tuttle paces UNI in scoring (14.8 PPG) and rebounding (6.4 RPG). The Sheffield, Iowa product also is a threat from the three-point arc having hit four of six attempts out there this season.
Junior Wes Washpun, whom Iowa offered a scholarship to when he was coming out of Cedar Rapids Washington High, is enjoying a breakout season. Already a strong on-ball defender, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound point guard is averaging 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest. He's 8 of 10 on three-pointers.
UNI Coach Ben Jacobson utilizes a deep bench with nine different players averaging at least 14.8 minutes per game. Eight guys are scoring at 4.2 or more.
Jacobson prides himself on tutoring teams that share the ball on offense and clamp down on defense. Opponents are averaging just 59.0 points and shooting only 40.1 percent from the floor against the Panthers.