Hawkeye history: Looking back at the Iowa men’s basketball team’s previous matchups with No. 1 teams

The Iowa men’s basketball program has three victories against AP top-ranked teams, and is going for win No. 4 on Saturday.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery speaks with the assistant coaches during a timeout for the basketball game against Northern Illinois on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 at Carver Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 106-53.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Dating back to the 1949-50 season, the Iowa men’s basketball program is 3-20 against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll.

Saturday’s matchup against top-ranked Gonzaga is Iowa’s opportunity to reach win No. 4.

Two of the program’s 23 meetings against the top team in the AP poll came in the 1950s, and the remainder occurred as follows: five of them in the 1960s, six in the 70s, three in the 90s, three in the 2000s, and three in the 2010s. In seven of these contests, Iowa was also ranked.

Before the No. 3 Hawkeyes compete against the No. 1 Zags in Sioux Falls, The Daily Iowan looks back at the last matchups Iowa had against the top teams in the nation.

The losses

Iowa’s first matchup against a No. 1 team came in the 1953 regular season finale when the team fell, 68-61, to Indiana. The Hawkeyes have lost to a top-ranked Hoosiers team on seven different occasions, with most of those meetings occurring when Bob Knight was Indiana’s head coach.

Ohio State (four), UCLA (two), Duke (two), and Illinois (two) are other top-ranked teams Iowa lost to on more than one occasion in the program’s history.

The Hawkeyes have twice lost to the nation’s top team in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa suffered an 84-81 loss to UNLV in the Regional Finals in 1987, a defeat that still stings for most Hawkeye fans who witnessed it. In 1992, Iowa lost to Duke, 75-62, in the tournament’s second round.

The Hawkeyes lost their first five games against a No. 1 team. In 1965, Iowa defeated a John Wooden-led UCLA team to break that streak.

The wins

Iowa won one of the more shocking games of the 1964-65 men’s college basketball season by defeating No. 1 UCLA, 87-82, at Chicago Stadium. The Bruins had won 44 of their previous 45 games before falling to the Hawkeyes.

The victory over the Bruins came right at the start of their dynasty. UCLA won its second consecutive National Championship in 1965, and the program won it all in 10 out of the next 12 seasons starting in 1964.

Iowa lost to UCLA in 1971 and 1974.

The next win in Hawkeye program history over a top-ranked team came 34 years later in Steve Alford’s first game as Iowa’s head coach. Alford’s team won, 70-68, at Madison Square Garden in its first game of the 1999-2000 season over No. 1 UConn, the team that won the National Championship the season prior.

Iowa’s most recent victory over a No. 1 team came in 2015, when the Hawkeyes defeated Michigan State, 83-70, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game marks the last time Iowa competed against a top-ranked team.

Ralph Miller, Alford, and Fran McCaffery are the only Iowa coaches to ever beat a top-ranked team while leading the Hawkeyes. McCaffery, who just won his 200th game as Iowa’s head coach, could become the first head Hawkeye to do it twice.

Competing against top-ranked teams under McCaffery

In 2011, McCaffery’s first season as Iowa’s head coach, the Hawkeyes fell to No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus, 70-48.

Two seasons later, the Hawkeyes lost to the Hoosiers, 73-60, at Assembly Hall.

The Hawkeyes’ 2015 victory over the top-ranked Spartans was the team’s third in a stretch of nine straight wins that eventually elevated Iowa to No. 3 in the nation. Iowa point guard Mike Gesell led all scorers with 25 points in the game. Peter Jok followed him with 19 of his own.