There weren't too many surprises in the Iowa men's basketball schedule released last Friday -- three months ago we knew most of Iowa's non-conference opponents, as well as which conference foes they were playing home and away and which they were just playing home or away. Mostly what Friday's schedule release did was reveal the sequencing of Iowa's 2019-20 schedule and provide dates for all of Iowa's games (start times and TV info is still TBD for almost all games at this point). But there was one cool bit of news to come out of the schedule release: Iowa hoops is playing Penn State at the legendary Palestra arena in Philadelphia.
Hawkeyes to play at Historic Palestra pic.twitter.com/Dk1S3Hxu6v— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) August 23, 2019
This is really cool for a few reasons. For one, playing Penn State anywhere other than the morgue-like Bryce Jordan Center should be considered a massive upgrade. That facility sucks for basketball and the crypt-like atmosphere that pervades those games makes them painful to watch and, based on the results over the years, not much better to play in, either. So skipping out on a trip to the BJC is already a win.
But trading out a game at the BJC for a game at the Palestra looks like a massive upgrade in terms of atmosphere and excitement (although not capacity: the Palestra hosts around 8700, which is about 7000 less than the BJC can hold for hoops). The Palestra is one of the most legendary facilities in college basketball. It's hosted 52 NCAA Tournament games since 1939, including six East regional finals and 10 East sub-regional games. But it's perhaps most famous for being the home of Philadelphia basketball. The Philadelphia Big 5 (Penn, Saint Joseph's, Temple, La Salle, and Villanova) played all of their games against one another at the Palestra for years and while that isn't still the case, they still play many games at The Palestra.
Iowa last played a game at the Palestra in the 1961-62 season, when Iowa beat Penn 72-64 in a regular season game. Iowa fans of a certain vintage talk fondly about the days when the basketball team played in the Field House; playing a game at the Palestra could provide a similar atmosphere and level of energy as those old Field House games.
A game at the Palestra will be extra-meaningful for this Iowa team given Fran McCaffery's history there as well. Fran grew up attending games at the Palestra, then played there for three years (1980-82) as a guard for Penn. (Prepare for a lot of "White Magic" talk and highlights in the build-up to this game.) So after attending games there as a fan, and competing there as a player, Fran will now get to coach a game there. In fact, not only will he get to coach a game there -- he'll get to coach two of his own sons in a game there.
Gotta say it is pretty cool that Iowa hoops is playing Penn State at the Palestra in January. That place means a lot to Fran. Now he gets the chance to coach both of his son's playing in a game there.— Tom Kakert (@HawkeyeReport) August 23, 2019
This game should be a special occasion for Fran and his family and for Iowa fans, it adds some energy and excitement to what would otherwise by one of Iowa's dullest road games of the season. Hard to find a fault with that.
The Big Ten has done a good job of finding interesting wrinkles to conference schedules in recent years. In addition to this game, Rutgers and Michigan are also hosting a basketball-wrestling doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on February 1, 2020 (which also happens to be Super Bowl Sunday). The Big Ten has done basketball-hockey doubleheaders at MSG in the past, but this is the first time I can recall them doing a basketball-wrestling two-fer. Iowa would seem like a natural option to consider for that sort of opportunity as well. The hardest part might be determining which teams would sacrifice home dates in that arrangement. For the Michigan-Rutgers doubleheader, Michigan is giving up a home dual meet and a home basketball game to have them at MSG instead. Iowa is traditionally loathe to give up home dates, although perhaps an exception could be made for a one-off like this that would provide added exposure and a novel experience.