This past week has been absolutely barren of any really good sports, unless you want to count the Seahawks blasting the Rams this past Thursday night as “good.” So if you’re like me, you’ve been craving Hawkeye sports in the worst way. Luckily, to bring us out of this dead period in collegiate athletics, the men’s basketball team will be playing in The Hy-Vee Classic against in-state rival Northern Iowa.
(Sidebar: do you all consider Northern Iowa to be a rival? Especially when it comes to basketball? They’ve been a pretty good team as of late and they’re not all too far away from Iowa City, but Iowa should be better than them. Right?
In his presser, Fran said that he sees UNI as an equal rival to Iowa State. Which is really interesting, maybe? I’m not so sure. /End sidebar)
To help get you primed for this Saturday’s match-up in Des Moines, let’s take a look at what Northern Iowa brings to the table.
The Panthers come into this one with a 5-4 record and have won consecutive games against South Dakota State and North Dakota after having dropped four in a row. They did go to the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando, FL earlier in the season, where they were able to knock off a couple decent teams in Oklahoma and Arizona State. They finished the tournament by losing to Xavier, and then in an interesting schedule quirk, followed that up with a loss to Xavier on the road.
The most intriguing note about UNI this season is that in their overtime victory against Oklahoma, they were down by 18 at one point and rallied back to eventually break the Sooners’ spirit and steal the game away. This isn’t the best basketball team that the Panthers have put on the court in recent years, but they’re still quite dangerous and show no signs of backing down against high major teams.
Jeremy Morgan, a Coralville native, is going to be the biggest impact player for the Panthers in this one, and it’s interesting to think that he almost could’ve been a Hawkeye. He went into college the same year that Peter Jok arrived on campus, and here’s a little excerpt from Fran McCaffery’s presser this week talking about Morgan.
Jeremy has always been a terrific player. I saw him as a young kid. I really wanted to have him badly, but we only had one scholarship. And as you recall, we needed a shooter in the worst way in that class. And Jeremy was always a great player and always a great scorer. He's become a terrific shooter. He was always a good shooter. But we felt like Pete was the best fit at that time. If we had two or three scholarships he would have been offered without hesitation.
Of course, we now know that Peter Jok is one of the best players in the country, so it’s hard to feel bad about it. But how has Morgan fared so far this season? In UNI’s nine games, Morgan averages 33.6 minutes and 18.1 points per game. The biggest part of his game is that now he can shoot the three pretty well, as he’s shooting about 46% from deep. He’s a pretty good slasher, too, so Iowa will have to keep up the good defensive performance they showcased against Stetson and Iowa State last week in order to slow him down.
The biggest thing to note about Morgan is how good he is when he isn’t shooting the ball. He averages over seven rebounds a game and just over three assists, which won’t blow anyone away, but are definitely solid numbers. On the defensive end is where he has some pretty impressive stats, averaging three steals and over one block per game. He’s a really well rounded player, and the biggest reason for UNI’s success.
Outside of Morgan? The Panthers don’t have anyone who will truly blow you away on the stat sheet, but they have a nice list of complementary players. The most important thing to note about UNI is that they’re pretty good at shooting from three-point range, as they have five players with at least 20 attempts shooting over 40% from long range. Four of those five are guards, so Isaiah Moss, Peter Jok, and Co. will have to keep up the solid work in order to make life tough for them on the perimeter.
Northern Iowa doesn’t have anyone who can really rebound the ball well (Morgan leads the team with his 7.3 rpg), which could be a major advantage for this Iowa team. Iowa has a lot of size on the guard-heavy Panthers and should be able to utilize strong-bodied players like Cordell Pemsl and Ahmad Wagner to push the Panthers around in the post. If they can take care of business on the glass, especially on offense, they should be good enough to beat up on Northern Iowa.
One thing that Fran noted in his presser was that the Panthers play really good team defense, and when asked about their “packline defense,” had this to say -
They do it well. You're right about that. Certain teams do it better than others. We played one, Virginia. They do it. UNI does it as well as they do, in my opinion.
Hopefully that isn’t the case, because Virginia blew the Hawkeyes out of the gym. I think that Iowa is a better team than they were when they went up against the Cavaliers, but if UNI plays even 3⁄4 of the defense that Virginia played, the Hawkeyes are going to have some trouble scoring in this one. Northern Iowa has allowed 70+ points only twice in nine games, once being in a 78-70 victory against North Dakota, and the other being in a 81-73 loss to Wyoming. For an Iowa team that’s had to rely on their high-powered offense for the majority of this season, that could spell disaster.
I think that Iowa will be able to walk away from this one unscathed and continue their momentum into next week. Northern Iowa should be able to keep this one from getting out of hand with their stingy defense, but I think that Iowa can score somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 points. Iowa’s improving defense should continue to experience positive growth in this one, and I think both teams will benefit from a little bit of rust on the defensive end, as neither team has played a game in at least a week. This game should hinge on rebounds - whichever team is able to clean up on the glass is likely to come out on top for this one. If Iowa is able to use its size down low, I see no reason why this can’t be them.
Iowa Hawkeyes 66, Northern Iowa Panthers 59. Mark it down.