CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) Northern Iowa broke into the top 10 last season thanks largely to the play of forward Seth Tuttle, arguably the best player in school history.
Tuttle has moved on and replacing him won’t be easy.
Tuttle’s departure will be the biggest challenge for the Panthers to overcome in 2015-16. Tuttle, a second-team All-American, anchored a team that won a school-record 31 games and was a dark horse Final Four candidate before falling to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.
Tuttle isn’t the only frontcourt player the Panthers need to replace: Its top three frontcourt players have moved on after combining for 27.7 points and 13.5 rebounds a game in 2014-15.
“I’ll miss those guys. I really missed them during the first workout this summer,” coach Ben Jacobson said Tuesday during the team’s media day. “I know (guard Matt) Bohannon sat out there on the wing and kept looking for Seth…and realized that Seth is not going to be in that spot anymore.”
Northern Iowa will instead be forced to ask a lot out of some big men with little to no playing experience.
Sophomore Bennett Koch appears to be the youngster with the best shot at a breakout season.
Koch, a 6-foot-10 forward whose brothers Adam and Jake starred for Northern Iowa, played in 28 games a year ago. He only scored 39 points, but 11 of them came in an eight-minute stretch of a key win over George Mason. Koch said he’s put on about 40 pounds since arriving on campus and is now 235 pounds.
“I think the biggest thing for me was trying to put some weight on…and trying to develop some confidence. I’ve struggled with that in the past, and my brothers are helping me out with that,” Koch said.
Ted Freidman, a 6-foot-9 sophomore center, played in 21 games and even started three times in 2013-14 – though he averaged less than a point and a board a game. He redshirted last season.
The Panthers also have sophomore Klint Carlson. He’ll serve a three-game suspension to start the year after being charged with operating while under the influence in June, but he’ll have a chance to play a big role for the Panthers.
Northern Iowa also has a pair of freshmen post players with big potential in Luke McDonnell and Justin Dahl, but they’ll likely redshirt.
“The thing I’m excited about is that we go from three seniors to three redshirt sophomores,” Jacobson said. “They’ve had the better part of two and a half years to work on their game, to work in the weight room.”
The Panthers do return a lot of talent in the backcourt, led by reigning Missouri Valley Sixth Man of the Year Wes Washpun, Bohannon and sophomore Wyatt Lohaus, who shot 47 percent on 3s last year.
Junior swing man Jeremy Morgan has a chance to blossom into one of the league’s best players, and Paul Jesperson could move to power forward to fill a need there.
But if the Panthers can’t develop at least a couple youngsters into adequate post players, they could find themselves having a tough time competing with Wichita State for the Valley title like it did a year ago.
“With our experience and our leadership being in our backcourt now, those guys will be the ones that will make more of the plays,” Jacobson said. “To think three sophomores are going to be able to provide the same thing that three seniors provided last year is the wrong way to look at it. Those three guys are going to need some time to play.””
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LukeMeredithAP