When a school's football team is competing for a conference title, sometimes the basketball team gets a little overlooked.
That might be the case at Iowa right now, but Coach Todd Lickliter has his team ready to open the season strong this weekend, nonetheless.
The Hawkeyes host Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners Sunday in Carver Hawkeye Arena for the preliminary round of the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic. The game will be televised on ESPNU, with Jim Barbar and Mike Kelley calling the play-by-play.
Lickliter thinks his team is ready, and better than people think. "I've never been one to put limitations on what I believe a team can do. I believe we have made progress and will continue to do so. I believe in our players, too, and we now have a group that is truly all on the same page," Coach Lickliter was quoted as saying at a recent press conference.
Iowa looks to exceed expectations this year and improve upon two straight losing seasons. It won't be easy for a team rebuilt almost from the ground up, after losing four players last year to transfer and with a school full of fans focused on a history-making football team.
The starting five for Iowa consists of of freshman Cully Payne, sophomore Matt Gatens, sophomore Aaron Fuller, junior Jarryd Cole, and senior Devan Bawinkel.
The young Hawkeye team did well last Sunday, beating Marian University 76-53 in an exhibition match. Iowa guard Anthony Tucker, who missed much of the season due to illness and academic issues, led all scorers with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Tucker's 21 points included five three pointers and demonstrated that Iowa has a few shooters in the mix this year. Matt Gatens, who scored 14 points in Sunday's game, also demonstrated this.
Gatens is Iowa's top returning scorer and rebounder from last season and started in all 32 games as a freshman
Lickliter hopes he can use the guard-centric team's shooting strength to offset an obvious weakness in rebounding. Glancing at the sidelines, it is clear Iowa lacks a true "big" man to battle in the paint for rebounds.
That weakness shouldn't be a problem in the home opener, though, as Texas-San Antonio is also a smaller team.
The Roadrunners finished 19-13 last season, and now start four seniors and a junior. The junior in that mix, Devin Gibson, is only the third player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in steals as a freshman.
They look to give the younger Hawkeye team a run for its money. UTSA is 5-0 in exhibition games, and look to start their regular season play with a win in Iowa City.
While most of the state's attention is focused on winning a Big Ten championship in football this weekend, Lickliter has his team prepared and focused on starting regular season play against an experienced UTSA team.
Iowa's basketball season officially tips off at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday.