Panthers need to win MVC Championship to make NCAA Tourney



What is going on with UNI? At 13-11, the Panthers men’s basketball team has had a tough year. Although they are 2-0 against two top five teams this year, North Carolina and Iowa State, the Panthers are 10-11 against the rest of their opponents.

Today, I would like to discuss with you how their overall play has been this year. I would also like to compare and contrast their play against ISU and their worse loss so far this season. Finally, we will talk about the adjustments the Panthers need to make, if they want to make the NCAA tournament.

To start off, let’s take a look at a few of their better wins aside from their two big upsets.

One of their impressive wins came way back in November, their second game of the year. Coming off a disappointing loss in the season opener to the Colorado State Rams, the Panthers looked to bounce back at home against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.

The Lumberjacks sought out revenge after UNI ended their 34-game home winning streak a year ago. But the Panthers got the hot start they needed and outscored the Lumberjacks, 40-26, in the first half.

Stephen F. Austin made the game a little more competitive in the second half, but the Panthers pulled away to win, 70-60. UNI held SFA to just 35.5 percent from the field and just 28.6 percent from the arc.

Another big win came this past Sunday when they took on the Southern Illinois Salukis. The Salukis came into Sunday’s game with a record of 18-4 and 7-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference. This game has got to be their biggest win since beating the Cyclones in the Big 4 Classic.

The Panthers showed off their stout defense, holding Southern Illinois to just 38.7 percent shooting and just 4-18 in three-point shots. In a game in which the Panthers played so well, you would think they shot the ball well, like they did against North Carolina and Iowa State. But that was not the case.

UNI shot just 42.3 percent and 3-19 from the three-point arc. They were even out-rebounded, 38-41, and had only six assists as a team. But they got the job done through solid defense and taking care of the ball. Bennett Koch, a sophomore, was without a doubt, player of the game by recording a double-double.

Koch had 22 points off 8-9 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and three blocks. After ending the first half tied, 29-29, UNI pulled away in the second half to eventually win by the score of 67-58.

If you follow UNI basketball, you probably know that when they get hot from the arc, their chances of winning skyrocket. They played out of their minds against Iowa State. Paul Jesperson shot for 70 percent efficiency and all of his 21 points came from the three-point range.

You can’t forget about Wes Washpun, either. His 28 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds ultimately decided this game.

UNI shot 59 percent from the arc, 58 percent total and had 16 assists as a team, which shows that they have been getting ball movement.

Now that we have discussed a few of the Panthers’ greatest victories this season, let’s discuss their worst loss. I will compare that loss to the victory against Iowa State and how they differently they played.

Their worse loss came at the hands of the Loyola Ramblers. The Ramblers were 0-5 in the conference and 7-10 overall before beating UNI, 51-41.

Offensively, the Panthers struggled throughout the whole game. They were getting stops but couldn’t convert on the other end.

At the end of the first half, the Panthers were ahead, 22-19. Then the Ramblers got hot. Loyola’s Montel James came off the bench sizzling and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. UNI was held to 27 percent shooting for the game and made just seven of 24 three-pointers.

So, if you compare these two games, you’ll see that UNI shot much better against Iowa State. They made 59 percent of their three-point shots, which isn’t something that happens every game, no matter how good you are.

One big difference was the amount of assists. Against ISU, the Panthers were moving the ball and finding the open guy. Against Loyola, well, it was a different story.

I think with this game it just came down to the fact that they were not making the shots they needed to make. Their offense wasn’t working that night, and that happens; you will have good nights and bad nights.

What does UNI need to do if they want to make the NCAA tournament? Well, I think it’s pretty obvious. Winning games on your home court is a must.

Secondly, they have got to make the shots they need to make. They can’t let their offense run stagnant.

Lastly, if they want to make the NCAA tournament, they will most likely have to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. I believe it is possible. This team has come through for Panther Town time and time again.