The Northern Iowa Panthers are returning to the site of one of their biggest victories in school history, as they earned an 11 seed and a matchup in the NCAA Basketball Tournament against sixth seed Texas Friday at 8:50 p.m. in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Panthers upset then top-ranked Kansas in the tournament in Oklahoma City their last time there as they advanced to the Sweet 16.
Coach Ben Jacobson says it’s nice to go back. “You know for some of us, it’s familiar,” Jacobson says, “And I think that’s good. They guys who are playing, they guys who really matter, they have not been there before. For some of us it’s nice to be able to go back there, but we’ve got a different team. Those guys haven’t been there,” Jacobson says.
Jacobson says he’s only watched a few of the Longhorn’s games, but knows their coach Shaka Smart well from games against his former VCU team. He says he doesn’t know enough about Smart’s Texas team to know if it is like his teams at VCU. Jacobson does like the Friday game over Thursday.
“One of the things talking about about it all week and getting asked different questions… if I had my choice, I’d rather play on Friday,” Jacobson says. “You do have the extra day of prep, you have a little more time to make travel plans. It takes a little bit of the anxiety out of it because you’ve got that extra 24 hours to do the stuff on the front end.”
He is happy with the 11 seed and says he thought they would be a 12 seed and would have been surprised to be a 13 seed, and is”mildly surprised” they are a 12. UNI had big wins over North Carolina and Iowa State in the non-conference, but started conference play at 2-6 and were 10-11 overall before going on a late season run and winning the MVC Tournament. Jacobson says the team has never stopped playing hard and pushing for a change to get back to the NCAA’s.
“Now we didn’t play very good for two-and-a-half weeks, but even in this last six weeks, we have played like a team that’s got something to prove. So, I think that will absolutely be a part of what we do this week,” according to Jacobson.
UNI is now 22-12. Texas was 20-12 and 11-7 in the Big 12 where they finished fourth.
(Reporting by Elwin Huffman, KOEL, Oelwein)