UNI picked to finish first in Valley preseason poll

UNI guard AJ Green was picked as the preseason MVC Player of the Year for the upcoming season. Green won the award last year.

DAVID WARRINGTON

The Missouri Valley Conference released their 2020-2021 preseason men’s basketball rankings on Thursday, and it looked very promising for the Panthers as they received the number one spot in the rankings. The conference also released the preseason All-MVC teams, which include three Panther players, with AJ Green being selected as the preseason Player of the Year. After winning the regular season conference title a year ago, the Panthers look poised to have a strong season this year, with reigning MVC Coach of the Year Ben Jacobson back for his 15th season leading the Panthers.

The MVC preseason team rankings have UNI at the No. 1 spot for the first time since 2009, receiving 30 first-place votes. They were followed by Loyola (13 first place-votes), Bradley (one first-place vote), Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Drake, Valparaiso, Illinois State and Evansville. Last season the Panthers won the regular season MVC title, finishing with a regular season record of 25-5, including 14-4 in MVC play, before being upset by the Drake Bulldogs in the first round of the MVC Tournament. After this, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended the season, ending any postseason hopes for the Panthers along with college basketball teams around the country.

The 2020-2021 MVC Preseason Player of the Year is UNI’s junior guard AJ Green. Green tested the waters of the NBA Draft process this offseason, but in the end decided to return to Cedar Falls for his junior season. Last season, Green was the leading scorer in the conference, averaging 19.7 points per game. He also finished at the top in three-pointers made with 91, just shy of three per game, while also leading in free throw percentage at 91.7 percent. Along with this, he appears in the top ten for assists and three point percentage.

Two other Panthers accompanied Green in the All-MVC Preseason teams. Joining Green on the first-team was junior forward Austin Phyfe. A season ago, Phyfe led the MVC in both rebounds and field goal percentage, pulling down 8.2 rebounds a game and making 67.1 percent of his shot attempts. He also averaged nearly one blocked shot per game, good for eighth in the conference. Senior guard Trae Berhow was selected to the preseason All-MVC third-team. Berhow was a do-it-all player for the Panthers a year ago. He was second on the team and 14th in the conference in scoring last season with 12.5 points per game. He was also third in both three-pointers made and three-point percentage, while finishing sixth in the conference in free throw percentage and 11th in rebounds.

Head coach Ben Jacobson enters his 15th season leading the Panthers as the reigning MVC Coach of the Year, his fourth time winning that award during his tenure at UNI. He is the winningest coach in program history with an overall record of 291-174, winning an average of 20.8 games per year in his 14 seasons with the Panthers so far. Coach Jacobson looks to lead the Panthers against the best that a very strong Missouri Valley Conference has to offer in the 2020-2021 season.