The UNI Panthers open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Oklahoma City against UNLV. The Panthers are 28-4 after winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Runnin’ Rebels are 25-8 and lost to San Diego State in the championship game of the Mountain West Conference tournament.

UNI coach Ben Jacobson says he has not had a chance to see UNLV play, but knows they’ve had a good year and are in a good league. He says he is not surprised they were seeded ninth in the Midwest Regional. The Panthers had been projected to be as high as a sixth seed. Jacobson says he told his team they would probably get a 7 or 8 seed, and wouldn’t be surprised if it was a 6 or a 9 seed.

Jacobson says they like the Oklahoma City site because it will allow a lot of fans to make the trip. He says Milwaukee was the preference, but Oklahoma City was second and he says the fans have been great all year and a lot of them will probably make the trip. UNI lost to Purdue 61-56 in the opening round last year and Jacobson says that experience should help them.

Jacobson says they found out that the way they played a year ago was good enough, but they didn’t play that way until the second half. He says they have been focused and are looking forward to playing on Thursday.

The winner of Thursday’s game will likely play top ranked Kansas in the second round. The Jayhawks take on Lehigh and are the top seed in the tournament.

By Elwin Huffman KOEL Oelwein