On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that Iowa State would be hosting Arkansas as part of the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge. The game will take place on December 4th and for the second year in a row, the Cyclones will host their SEC opponent at Hilton Coliseum. As far as opportunities to pick up quality, resume-worthy wins go, you could do a lot worse than the Razorbacks, but that's not really the point. Well, it's kind of the point, but ultimately, we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't admit that we were all hoping for more.
While an Iowa State-Arkansas tilt should attract some eyeballs nationally, the schedule of this match up left no doubt about which Big 12 teams were rewarded with the marquee match ups of the challenge. Here's the schedule (TV and times have yet to be announced):
2014 SEC/Big 12 Challenge
Wednesday, Dec. 3
Auburn at Texas Tech
Thursday, Dec. 4
Arkansas at Iowa State
Baylor at Vanderbilt
LSU at West Virginia
TCU at Mississippi
Friday, Dec. 5
Florida at Kansas
Missouri at Oklahoma
Texas at Kentucky
Saturday, Dec. 6
Kansas State at Tennessee
Oklahoma State at South Carolina
Just looking at the schedule and match ups, it's blatantly clear that Friday, December 5th was without question, positioned as the night of must-see TV. We all knew Kansas was going to get either Florida or Kentucky and with the type of team Texas will field next year, combined with a successful decade or so for that program (oh, and the fact that it's fucking Texas...if you're into the whole conspiracy thing), the Longhorns were going to be a top choice for the schedule makers. But after those two, couldn't you make the case that Iowa State would be the next best choice for the it program in the conference?
Now, that's no shot at Oklahoma, who had a great season this past year and could contend for the conference championship next year, but if we're looking at things like recent success, the perceived returning strength of every team in the conference and the subjective buzz that each program is generating, I find it peculiar and perhaps even insulting that Iowa State didn't make its way into that Friday night showcase (and to be completely honest, I wouldn't be upset at all if the Iowa State-Arkansas game were taking place on that Friday night. Arkansas is an established enough brand that the Cyclones and Razorbacks could have been a worthy undercard for the Kansas-Florida and Texas-Kentucky games).
This blogger is of the opinion (which I know means jack shit) that the Big 12 will have at least four schools ranked in the pre-season top 25 (Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma) with another three (Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor) just on the fringe. Just as it was this past year, the Big 12 could be the best overall and deepest conference in the country and Iowa State figures to be among the elite of the league. This, coming off the heels of a conference tournament championship where the Cyclones completely took over Kansas City, a Sweet 16 appearance, one of the hottest names in coaching and a player in Georges Niang, who just might be the best returning player in the conference. Yeah, I'd say Iowa State deserves the spotlight as much as anyone in the Big 12 not named Kansas.
Perhaps I'm making much adieu about nothing (wouldn't be the first time) and perhaps I'm anointing Iowa State's status as a big-time draw a season or two early. Then again, maybe I'm missing the larger point that the SEC is a shit league after Kentucky/Florida and there wasn't much that could be done as far as rewarding Iowa State's recent ascent with a significant opponent from the ESSS-EEEE-SEEE. Regardless, this program has earned the right to be slotted into these high profile non-conference battles and tournaments and with the list of teams nationally that are willing to come to Hilton Coliseum sitting at somewhere between zero and almost zero, I
foolishly hoped that the conference would go to bat for the Cyclones and hook our boys up with a game that we could get excited about (Missouri?). It didn't happen (again, Iowa State could have done a lot worse than Arkansas, which could potentially be a top 50 RPI opponent).
Iowa State's schedule is still taking shape and we keep hearing rumors about scheduling a home-and-home with an opponent from a high-major conference, but nothing has been announced yet. Arkansas has been added to the list that includes an away game at Iowa, the Big 4 Classic against Drake, and the four-team CBE Classic in Kansas City that will feature the likes of Iowa State, Alabama, Maryland and Arizona State. Ideally, Iowa State will schedule at least two more prominent opponents (in addition to the usual creme puffs) and for resume purposes, it would help if those match ups came on a neutral court or even a true road game as the selection committee looks favorably on that type of thing, though the game at Iowa does alleviate some of those concerns.
If the major pre-conference tournaments aren't going to come calling and the folks in the Big 12 office are going to continue to view Iowa State as a second-class citizen, Fred Hoiberg and Jamie Pollard are going to have to get creative with the scheduling. Instead of traditional home-and-homes, which I'm guessing regional programs like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, etc. will likely avoid, perhaps a home-and-home with a third "neutral" site game thrown in might get Iowa State into some higher profile match ups.
For instance, I have my doubts about Missouri signing on for a standard home-and-home, but what if a third game was thrown in and played in St. Louis? That's just an example, but the same thing could be done with Illinois (United Center), Wisconsin (BMO Harris Bradley Center) or Minnesota (Target Center). I'm just spitballing here, but I think you get the point. If Iowa State starts showing up more frequently in these types of games, the power brokers of college basketball will start to take notice.
The fact is, Iowa State still has a long way to go, however, before the TV execs and tournament organizers mention the Cyclones in the same breath as more prominent programs, but you have to think this program is close, right? That's really my whole point here. Arkansas is a decent name as far as college basketball programs go and Iowa State is certainly not assured a win on December 4th, but ultimately, we were hoping for more.