Iowa Basketball: Get To Know Northern Iowa Panthers
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
A closer look at Iowa’s opponent on Saturday, the Northern Iowa Panthers
It will have been nine days since Iowa basketball defeated Iowa State at home when the Hawkeyes and Northern Iowa Panthers take the court in Des Moines. Iowa comes in at a measly 5-5, but the Panthers aren’t much better at 5-4.
Northern Iowa is coming off back-to-back Round of 32 appearances. Their 27-3 regular season and top-25 ranking went to waste in 2014-15 when they lost to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. That doesn’t compare to the heartbreak they felt last year, though.
Northern Iowa led Texas A&M 69-57 with 44 seconds left. Then, in one of the most historic meltdowns in college basketball history, the Aggies somehow went on a 14-2 run, which included a layup by Admon Gilder with three seconds left, to tie the game and force overtime.
Texas A&M ended up completing the comeback in double-overtime, winning 92-88 and ending what could have been a cinderella run for the Panthers.
This season, even making the NCAA Tournament will be a challenge. Just like Iowa, Northern Iowa recently snapped a four game skid with two straight wins. The Panthers lost to Xavier two times in a row, as well as George Mason and Wyoming.
For a mid-major that’s not expected to win their conference tournament, the Panthers are digging themselves a deep hole to climb out of early in the season. This will only be their 10th game of the year, but a loss to Iowa could signal them needing to win their conference tournament to make the Big Dance this year.
It will be a clash of two different styles of play on Saturday. The Panthers rank outside the top-250 in points per game, however own the 29th best scoring defense. It’s almost the complete opposite for Iowa. The Hawkeyes own the 23rd best scoring offense but only the 322nd ranked scoring defense.
Here’s a closer look at Northern Iowa’s best players and their head coach.
Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Ben Jacobson is now in his 11th season as Northern Iowa’s head coach. He’s turned a non-factor in the Missouri Valley Conference into a perennial threat, with Northern Iowa winning 20-plus games seven times in Jacobson’s first 10 years compared to just four times in their previous 26 seasons.
Northern Iowa also cracked the AP top-10 in 2014-15 for the first time in school history, as they made their third of four NCAA Tournaments under Jacobson. While Greg McDermott led the Panthers to three straight Tournaments, he never made it out of the first round and only cracked the AP top-25 once.
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In Northern Iowa’s first Tournament appearance in 1989-1990, they upset Missouri to make it to the Round of 32. The Panthers at least made it that far in their past three NCAA Tournaments under Jacobson. He also led them to their first Sweet 16 in school history in 2009-10, when the Panthers won 30 games for the first time.
As a nine seed, Northern Iowa upset UNLV in the first round and then pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Tournament that year with a 69-67 win over Kansas. Although, Michigan State proved to be too much, as the Panthers’ cinderella run came to an end with a 59-52 loss to the Spartans.
Still, it’s the farthest Northern Iowa has ever made it and exemplifies the great job Jacobson has done with this once struggling program. The Panthers don’t have the track record other mid-majors have, but they’ve built up a program that challenges Iowa and Iowa State when they play.
In fact, over the past three seasons, the Panthers are 5-1 in the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic. They took down the fifth ranked Iowa State Cyclones last year, and their only loss is to 17th ranked Iowa State in overtime three years ago.
In years the Panthers have a great deal of success, it’s due to their defense. Ben Jacobson flies under the radar, just like Northern Iowa, but he’s built a defensive-minded culture at a program that had no identity for their first 26 years of existence.
Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Players To Watch
Jeremy Morgan: 18.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 3.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Northern Iowa has dealt with a good amount of turnover recently, but one player who continues to improve is Jeremy Morgan. He does a little of everything for Northern Iowa and leads them in all five major categories this season. Simply put, if Iowa contains him like they did with Monte Morris, they’ll have no problem winning.
It’s extremely hard to contain him, though, due to his versatility. He’s an effective outside shooter with a 45.8 three-point percentage, but he can also go inside. From Coralville, Iowa, Morgan will surely play with a chip on his shoulder against the team he grew up watching. That’s why Iowa needs to keep him from getting the ball and force other players to beat them.
Jordan Bohannon, who has been turnover prone at times, and Christian Williams, who doesn’t have great ball security, will have to be extra careful with the ball. Considering Isaiah Moss guarded Morris last week, it’s expected that he’ll try to slow down Morgan.
If another players has a big game to beat Iowa, so be it. However, Iowa knows what to expect from Morgan in terms of scoring, rebounding and defense, therefore they need to minimize him and force him into tough decisions.
Jordan Ashton: 8.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 44.1 3P%
Jeremy Morgan is really good and he’ll get his points. That being said, the Hawkeyes can’t afford to let another player on Northern Iowa have a big game. Therefore, it will be their job to stop any breakout games.
Jordan Ashton ranks third on the team in minutes per game and fourth in scoring. His 44.1 three-point percentage is what buys him 26.6 minutes per game and what could decide the game if the Hawkeyes leave him open.
Even against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes left a lot of shooters open from three. The Cyclones simply missed open shots, but the Hawkeyes won’t be as lucky against Ashton. He has multiple threes in four games and three games with double-digit points. He won’t score 30 points on 10 threes, but open looks build confidence for shooters.
Iowa’s main objective is to stop Jeremy Morgan, but Jordan Ashton has the potential to be an X-Factor on Saturday, too.
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