Feb 16, 2021; College Park, Maryland, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Fred Hoiberg looks onto the during the second half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Imagine this scene…
It is a Friday or Saturday evening in December. It is colder than the penguin enclosure at the Blank Park Zoo in Ames, Iowa, but the action inside Hilton Coliseum will soon be heating up.
A Cyclone legend will be back in town on this night. One of the school’s most beloved figures, Fred Hoiberg, is returning to coach at Hilton Coliseum…
For the other team.
This scene doesn’t sound so crazy after hearing T.J. Otzelberger’s appearance on Jon Rothstein’s College Basketball Today podcast on Monday. Rothstein presented the question that has been stirring in my mind ever since it was announced Iowa State would play Creighton, and former head coach Greg McDermott, in the Big East-Big 12 Battle this season.
Would Otzelberger ever consider scheduling a home-and-home with Hoiberg and former Big 12 rival Nebraska?
“That’s something at this point that Fred and I haven’t discussed,” Otzelberger told Rothstein. “When we look at the schedule, we want to have those competitive games, we want to have rivalry games with teams that are local so the travel isn’t as far and there’s exciting opportunities for our fans. That’s something that as time moves forward if the schedule lines up the right way, it works for them and it works for us, it’s certainly something we’d be open to.”
Sign me up.
Obviously, this couldn’t happen during the 2021-22 season. Otzelberger told Rothstein that Iowa State’s upcoming schedule is already complete (and it is safe to assume that it will be announced soon once the program learns of its matchup in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge).
But, the idea of Hoiberg returning to Hilton Coliseum and two programs with so much history matching up on the hardwood again brings serious intrigue.
We’ve already seen this once when Iowa State and Missouri rekindled their old Big 12 series back in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
I’ll never forget covering that 2017-18 game in Columbia. Cuonzo Martin was coaching his first game with the Tigers. Highly-touted freshman Michael Porter Jr. was making his debut. Old rivals were coming together again to stir up memories of Norm Stewart, Johnny Orr and Big 8 battles of yesteryear.
That game didn’t live up to the hype. Iowa State was severely outmanned even once Porter Jr. left the game less than a minute in with a back injury he suffered in warmups, which would ultimately cost him the majority of his one collegiate season.
I’ll still never forget that atmosphere in Mizzou Arena, though…
The 2018-19 game in Ames was a coming-out party for Steve Prohm’s last great Iowa State team. The game introduced us to future star Tyrese Haliburton and opened our eyes to how dang good that team could be when they operated at a high level.
And those old memories came rushing back again, too…
A Cyclones and Cornhuskers battle would be sure to bring even greater hype, especially if both programs can trend in a positive direction in the not-so-distant future.
We all know the road Otzelberger, and his staff has to navigate to rejuvenate Iowa State men’s basketball after one of the worst seasons in program history ended the Prohm tenure.
Hoiberg has had struggles of his own during his first two years in Lincoln but has used a familiar formula of stockpiling transfer to build what should be (on paper) the most purely talented roster Nebraska men’s basketball has had in recent years.
“The Mayor” is in a position where he could eventually end his coaching career as a guy revered by two men’s basketball fanbases. If he can win the first NCAA Tournament game in Nebraska men’s basketball history, they’ll probably build him a damn statue.
It would not be a shock to see him get one in Ames at some point, too. He’ll always be loved here regardless of everything that has happened in the six years since he departed from a program six years that was humming along at a rate the school has rarely ever seen.
If he were to return to Hilton Coliseum on the opposing sideline, though, there would be little love lost towards him and the Cornhuskers. The same could be said towards the Cyclones if they visited the beautiful Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, an underrated venue despite the Huskers’ lack of success.
It won’t happen this year. Maybe it won’t happen next year either. I think it should happen, though, because I can guarantee that would be a scene none of us would ever forget.
“I know Fred’s got a lot on his plate, as we do right now,” Otzelberger said. “Schedule for us next year is set. There’s not a whole lot of choices to make, but that’s something we would be open to as we move forward.”