The Northern Iowa Panthers are back in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the regular season at 30-3 and winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Coach Ben Jacobson says his players really responded this season to all the challenges.
“It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of, seeing these guys change the way in which they approach things, the determination that they’ve had to keep getting better. They’ve really taken ownership of what is happening and it says a lot about how far they have come,” Jacobson says. The tenth ranked UNI Panthers were given just a five seed and will play in the East Region in Seattle and will face 12th seeded Wyoming on Friday. Jacobson says the seed was about what he expected, despite their record.
“I thought four or five, I think nationally most people had us as a four,” Jacobson says. “There’s not a lot of difference I suppose between the last four seed and the first or second five seed — that cutting line is pretty thin.” He also says he’s not surprise they are going way west to Seattle. Jacobson says there were not going to be a lot of options for playing closer as Wisconsin and Kansas would take up the spots in Omaha with their one and two seeds. “Maybe Louisville and Columbus would be driveable for our fans, more so than Seattle’s going to be,” according to Jacobson.
But Jacobson says worrying about where you play is not the top thing on his list. “You know that’s down the list…you want to play well enough to get in, and in this case we played well enough to get a pretty good seed, and those things are more important,” Jacobson says. The Panthers have had the week off after winning the MVC Tournament. Jacobson says that’s always the situation they’ve been in, so they know how to prepare for the NCAA’s. He says it does give Valley teams the advantage of being rested.
“You know right now we can practice pretty good, where some of those teams that just played three days in a row, it’s hard to go back to practice and really go after some things. I think there’s probably some give and take,” Jacobson says. “They’ve got some momentum, the teams that won the last three or four days have got good momentum heading into Thursday and Friday. We can go on the practice floor and we can go at it to get ready for Thursday and Friday.” Wyoming enters the tournament at 25-9.
The Panthers will play Friday at 12:40 Iowa time on TBS.
By Elwin Huffman, KOEL, Oelwein