Panthers preparing to compete at Arch Madness



Tytan Anderson (32) was selected as the team captain of the Missouri Valley Conference Most Improved Team after a strong regular season.

PAUL NOBLE, Sports Writer

The UNI men’s basketball team is headed to St. Louis, Mo., for the annual Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) men’s basketball tournament. The Panthers have received the eight-seed after posting a 9-11 record in conference play and a 13-17 record overall. UNI also recently received some end of season hardware. Landon Wolf was named to the MVC All-Bench Team, while Tytan Anderson was named the team captain of the MVC Most Improved Team.

After winning the regular season title last year, 2022-2023 has been a struggle at times for the Panthers. A lot has changed since last season. Former Panther AJ Green decided to forgo his final season of eligibility at UNI. However, it looks to be paying off as Green inked a two-way contract last June with the Milwaukee Bucks and their G-League team, the Wisconsin Herd. In addition, last year’s starting forward, Noah Carter, transferred to Missouri, where he is currently averaging 9.1 points per game in the Southeastern Conference. To make things worse for the Panthers, UNI veteran Austin Phyfe has been sidelined all year due to health issues. All of this left the Panthers with a very young team, and outside of Phyfe, junior James Betz is the only upperclassman.

The path to the eighth-seed was quite the roller coaster for the Panthers. UNI struggled mightily in the season’s first 10 games, losing seven of them. However, in the following 41 days, the Panthers got hot and managed a 9-2 record to bring themselves to 8-3 in the conference and 12-9 overall. However, the gauntlet of the schedule was in February, and UNI had to face off against the top tier of the Missouri Valley. In February, UNI played against Bradley, Belmont, Southern Illinois and Drake twice. The gauntlet proved too much for this young Panther team, as UNI finished the year losing eight of their last nine games.

On Thursday, UNI will face off against nine-seed Illinois State to open the tournament, a favorable matchup for the Panthers. UNI and Illinois State met twice this season, with the Panthers winning 66-60 on Dec. 29 and 65-63 on Jan. 18. The Redbirds have also struggled down the stretch, losing six of their last seven and 10 of their previous 13. If the Panthers can make it through Thursday, they will face the No. 1 seed Bradley. The regular season conference champions, Bradley is the hottest team in the Missouri Valley and enters the tournament on a 10-game winning streak. UNI faced Bradley twice during the regular season, losing 68-53 on Nov. 30 and 77-69 on Feb. 4.

The tournament will likely end the Panthers season, but it is March, and crazier things have happened. If UNI pulls off the improbable and wins the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, they would become the 19th team with a losing record to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the first to do so since Texas Southern in 2018.

The task ahead is enormous, but regardless of the outcome, it is almost certain this young Panther team will return stronger and more experienced next year.