Northern Iowa team capsule
Northern Iowa (28-4)
COACH: Ben Jacobson, four years at Northern Iowa, two years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Missouri Valley)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Northern Iowa’s first job is to defend UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis, who averages 17.5 points and 3.4 assists per game. Both teams are strong defensively and careful with the basketball. UNLV allows 63.9 points a game and leads the Mountain West Conference in defensive shooting percentage at 39.8 percent. The Rebels also lead the MWC in turnover margin (plus-4.09) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4). The Panthers will own a height advantage with 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder. UNLV might need to go to its bench to match up with him.
GO-TO GUYS: The Panthers start their offense with big men Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch. Eglseder, a 7-footer-, gets good position and can score with short jumpers or around the basket. He is big enough to bang with almost anybody in the nation. Koch’s specialty is driving to the basket and drawing fouls — he averages 4.7 free throws a game. He can make three-pointers (36.4) percent if given room to shoot. Point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe isn’t a good shooter (38.7 percent from the field) but he has a knack for big baskets and drawing fouls. He is UNI’s best driver. He is strong and quick and tough to keep out of the lane. When the Panthers need a three, guard Ali Farokhmanesh is the choice. He is shooting 36.8 percent from behind the arc.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: The bench continues to play as well as it did late in the season. Jacobson went 10 deep in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. At times, his reserves played better than the starters. Forward Jake Koch, brother of Adam, scored 13 points in the championship game. Guard Marc Sonnen scored 10, tying for the team lead, in a semifinal win over Bradley. UNI’s starters were fresh and stayed out of foul trouble, thanks to the work of the reserves. Junior forward Lucas O’Rear is the key to the bench. He is an energetic defender and rebounder who loves setting solid screens. He almost always gives the Panthers a boost coming off the bench.
STRENGTHS: The Panthers control the tempo and play rock-solid defense that gives up few easy shots. They play man-to-man defense and always get a hand in the face of shooters. Beat one defender, and two more are quick to help. UNI plays the percentages and is willing to let weak shooters take shots in order to double team or deny better scorers. The Panthers allowed teams to score 54.3 points and shot 40.3 percent from the field, both best in the MVC. On offense, UNI makes few mistakes. It plays patiently, runs a lot of plays and takes good shots. The Panthers made 439 free throws. Their opponents attempted 442. That’s an indication of their sound defense and efficient offense.
WEAKNESSES: Athletic teams that can force the tempo or score with one-on-one moves can give the Panthers problems. Starting guards Farokhmanesh and Johnny Moran are not good drivers and they struggle to create their own shots. Teams that don’t have to double-team the big men can shut down UNI’s outside game. The Panthers are not a great shooting team — 43.1 percent from the field. They depend on getting to the line to create around 20 percent of their points. Keep UNI off the line and it is hard for them to score. Ahelegbe is a key to the team, but can play out of control. He has more turnovers (94) than assists (86).