MVC releases schedules for conference play

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  • Clouded in uncertainty midst a pandemic, the Missouri Valley Conference releases schedules for both the men’s and women’s side.

  • UNI returns their leading scorer and first team all-conference guard Karli Rucker for her senior season.

  • Larry Bird MVC player of the Year AJ Green will lead the Panthers in the 2020-2021 season.

  • The McLeod Center looks to welcome the UNI men’s and women’s basketball teams for the coming season

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COLIN HORNING, Sports Editor

After much speculation surrounding how the 2020-2021 men’s and women’s basketball seasons would pan out, the Missouri Valley Conference released their schedules for conference play on the men’s and women’s side. Both teams are scheduled for 18 MVC games, with nine being played at home in the McLeod Center and the remaining nine coming on the road. The State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, or “Arch Madness,” is scheduled for March 4-7 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO for the men’s teams while the Hoops in the Heartland conference tournament for the women will take place March 11-14 at the Taxslayer Center in the Quad Cities. The Panther men’s and women’s teams are both returning strong teams for the season, and look poised to compete amongst the top tier of the Missouri Valley.

The men’s conference schedule will take place from Dec 30 through Feb 27. The Panther men will open the conference slate on Wednesday, Dec 30 at home against the Missouri State Bears. Amongst the nine home games, five are scheduled on Wednesdays, three on Saturdays and one on a Sunday. Home games on Wednesdays will see the Panthers matchup against Illinois State on Jan 6, Bradley on Jan 20, Indiana State on Feb 3 and Southern Illinois on Feb 24 along with their home opener against Missouri State on Dec 30. Saturday home games will have UNI host Evansville on Jan 9, Valparaiso on Jan 23 and Loyola-Chicago on Feb 6. The lone Sunday home game will be against Drake University on Feb 14.

Coming off a season that saw the Panther men go 25-6 overall and claim a Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship, the 2019-2020 season was cut unexpectedly short in postseason play, following a first-round loss to the hands of Drake in Arch Madness. Northern Iowa will return the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year and first team all-conference guard AJ Green for his junior season after Green opted out of the NBA draft and decided to return to school. They will also bring back first-team all conference big man Austin Phyfe and forward Trae Berhow, who was an MVC Most-Improved team selection a year ago. Head coach Ben Jacobson will also return for his 15th season at the helm of the Panthers, coming off his fourth MVC Coach of the Year award last season. He is the all-time winningest coach in UNI history and has led the Panthers to four NCAA tournament appearances and four victories while in the tournament.

The Panther women will begin their conference slate on the road against Illinois State on Thursday, Dec 31 and Bradley on Jan 2 before playing five out of their next seven games at home. Their first three games in the McLeod Center will come consecutively, beginning with Valparaiso on Jan 7, Loyola-Chicago on Jan 9 and Drake on Jan 15. Their final two home games will be on March 4 and 6 against Bradley and Illinois State, respectively.

One of the best years for the Panther women in recent memory was cut short due to the cancellation of both the Hoops in the Heartland and NCAA tournaments. UNI beat three Power 5 schools and defeated Iowa, Iowa State and Drake all for the first time in one season. They will bring back first team all-conference guard Karli Rucker along with all-conference center Megan Maas. Head coach Tanya Warren will return to the helm for her 14th season and is the all-time winningest coach in UNI women’s basketball history.