Ben Jacobson

Offensive struggles not the only reason why Northern Iowa’s in an 0-2 hole

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With four starters returning from last season’s 20-win squad much was expected of Ben Jacobson’s Northern Iowa Panthers, as they were picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference.

But it’s been tough sledding for UNI on the offensive end of the floor through 14 games, resulting in a 7-7 overall record and an 0-2 mark in MVC play following their 65-61 loss to Indiana State on Wednesday night.

Seth Tuttle led the way for the Panthers with 24 points but it wasn’t enough to prevent them from losing for the fourth time in the last five games. Wednesday’s defeat came on the heels of a 66-41 loss at Wichita State in which no Panther reached double figures.

The question: is UNI capable of of getting back into the Valley race?

The depth that was cited as a reason why UNI would contend (and be able to play faster in doing) so hasn’t been as productive as anticipated, as they’ve tallied less than one point per possession in six of their 14 games. Overall UNI is shooting 43.7% from the field, a number that ranks 8th in the conference and that’s with five players averaging at least 8.8 points per game.

Anthony James (36.9% FG), Jake Koch (38.5) and Marc Sonnen (41.7) are three of UNI’s top four players in field goal attempts, and those low percentages come as a result of the caliber of shot that the Panthers are finding.

UNI has done a good job of keeping opponents off the offensive glass but they haven’t been able to make teams pay on the other end, as they rank dead last in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage (23.9%). Struggling as they have when it comes to shooting, those extra possessions would come in handy if the Panthers were able to get them.

Their play on the offensive end isn’t the only reason why Northern Iowa has struggled of late, as they currently rank 9th in the Valley in three-point percentage defense and 8th in rebounding margin.

While UNI has a few areas to address the best path to doing so may be a return to the basics, almost taking on a “less is more” approach. Given their shooting and the fact that they have what amounts to a seven-man rotation, a renewed focus on the fundamentals is something Northern Iowa hopes will pay off as the season wears on.

“When I talk about getting a little simpler with what we’re doing, that’s going to help this team,” Jacobson said following last night’s loss, according to Carson Tigges of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

“To get a little better understanding of what we’re trying to get will help them in terms of their confidence, so we have to keep working at that.”

Northern Iowa has consistently been a tough out during Jacobson’s tenure, which includes two NCAA tournament appearances and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2010. So while the road ahead looks to be a tough one, it wouldn’t be wise to rule Northern Iowa out just yet.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.