December 09, 2015

Iowa had a 31-game home winning streak against nonconference foes entering last year's showdown with Iowa State, and Georges Niang kissed it goodbye - literally.

This time Niang and the fourth-ranked Cyclones have the same streak on the line in the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series, and the spotlight will be even brighter with this nationally televised game being Thursday night's only one featuring a Top 25 team.

It's an unbeaten team at that, with Steve Prohm matching the best start by a first-year coach in Iowa State history at 7-0. The last six wins have been by an average of 22.7 points.

It was also a blowout last December when the Cyclones led by as many as 25 in a 90-75 victory in Iowa City. Niang had 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and he further annoyed the Hawkeyes' faithful by blowing a kiss to the crowd after a late basket with the game in hand.

"It was just sort of in the moment," the preseason All-American said Tuesday. " ... It's all out of good fun. I feel like I just have a competitive nature and that's just me. I don't really hold back on anything."

The four-year starter also mentioned wanting to avoid finishing his career 2-2 against Iowa. A loss during his freshman season is Iowa State's only one in the past six meetings.

The Hawkeyes (7-2) have lost six straight at Hilton Coliseum but can end that streak along with the Cyclones' run of 31 consecutive nonconference wins at home, dating to a loss to Northern Iowa on Nov. 30, 2011.

"I expect them to try to come in and make it a blood bath to be honest with you," Niang said. " ... I'm sure they're gonna give us more than their best shot."

Iowa seemingly has the firepower to keep up with the Cyclones, who rank among the national leaders with 86.9 points per game. The Hawkeyes have averaged 86.8 during a four-game winning streak.

That run began against a ranked Wichita State team, and Iowa State also has wins over Marquette and Florida State, but coach Fran McCaffery realized after Monday's 90-56 victory over Western Illinois that the biggest challenge comes Thursday.

"Yeah, playing the fourth-ranked team in the country with a lot of experience," he said. "Yeah, a lot tougher."

Particularly with Niang having found his groove. He's averaging 23.0 points on 60.5 percent shooting in the last three games after scoring a career-high 31 in Monday's 84-63 victory over Buffalo.

His matchup with fellow 6-foot-9 senior Jarrod Uthoff should be a good one. Uthoff is also coming off a career high with 27 points Monday and is averaging 18.2 while shooting 20 of 41 from 3-point range. He leads the Big Ten with 23 blocks.

"I think that's what we need from him," McCaffery said. "He's got to establish a low-post presence, a perimeter presence. He's always been a defensive presence."

Uthoff, though, has been McCaffery's only consistent offensive force. Peter Jok is the only other Hawkeye averaging in double figures, but he's failed to top 10 points four times.

Iowa State, meanwhile, has five players averaging at least 12.9 points. Abdel Nader has averaged 16.3 in the past four, and Monte Morris has scored at least 12 in every game while leading the Big 12 with 7.3 assists per game. Jameel McKay is one of two Big 12 players averaging a double-double (13.9 points, 11.6 rebounds).

Like McKay, Prohm is getting his first taste of this rivalry, which Iowa leads 43-25, and he isn't treating the game any differently - even though he knows better.

"As a coach, it's the next game," he said. "But I understand and embrace it if that makes sense. I know it's a big deal. ... I understand what it means to the people of Iowa."

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