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.