Not so long ago, this game, this week and the season in general couldn't get over fast enough for Iowa and Iowa State hoop fans.
As recently as 2009-10, the Hawkeyes posted a paltry overall record of 10-22. The Cyclones weren't faring much better, going 15-17 during that long, cold winter. No NCAA tournament appearances were in the front or rear-view mirror of either program at the time.
In other words, a step behind even the abyss of mediocrity that Div. I college basketball knows so well.
Their December date had been relegated to an afterthought - a shell of its former self. It wasn't as much about bragging rights for the winner anymore, but rather, further embarrassment for the loser.
On Friday, the rivalry witnesses a national resurrection. No. 23 Iowa and 17th-rated Iowa State square off as Top-25 foes for the first time since 1987, when Lafester Rhodes dropped 54 points on the Hawks in a 102-100 overtime victory. Heck, neither team has been ranked at all heading into this contest in eight years.
Suddenly, the entire state is watching with eager anticipation. The few available tickets remaining on-line are going for nearly $200 each in the cheap seats of Hilton Coliseum, which will undoubtedly be as raucous as ever. Head coach Fred Hoiberg's team is 21-1 at home since the start of last season, where Fran McCaffery's Hawks haven't prevailed in 10 years.
Statistically speaking, both squads appear to be here to stay. Iowa and Iowa State each rank in the country's Top-5 for scoring and rebounding, as well as being in the Top-10 for field goal defense. They're efficient with the ball in their hands and effective defending against it.
Not to be out-done by the main event is Thursday's potential bellwether. The No. 21 Iowa women pay 17th-rated Iowa State a visit.
Like the Cyclone men, Bill Fennelly's women are undefeated. Like the Hawkeye men, Lisa Bluder's women have only lost once. Both programs have enjoyed much more recent success than their counterparts, but a Top-25 showdown is indeed a rarity
So many times in recent memory, the Hawkeyes and Cyclones have slumbered through games on the hardwood we'd all like to forget. Hopefully these showdowns live up to their advanced billing and give us something to remember.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org