Northern Iowa was embarrassed in Des Moines on Saturday. The final score, 69-46, was bad enough, but the Panthers were never in the game against Iowa. In the first game of a double header (Drake and Iowa State are up second), called the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic, UNI was not … classic.
Ben Jacobson’s team had won two straight games this year, and two straight at this annual event. 97 seconds into the game, they led the Hawkeyes 5-2. Then Iowa’s defense kicked in and the Panthers were kicked out.
Iowa went on a 16-2 run as it took the Panthers almost six minutes to score their next field goal, and then another four minutes to score again. Had it been a boxing match, the TKO would have been called at the 8:43 mark of the first half.
What did we learn about the Panthers?
They don’t rebound well enough.
Coming into the contest, the Panthers were dead last in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding (31.1 per game). Despite the absence of Iowa’s second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder Tyler Cook, the Panthers were crushed on the boards as Iowa grabbed 43 missed shots and the Panthers just 29. The combination of Klint Carlson, Ted Friedman, and Bennett Koch does not hold up well against big, athletic teams.
Outside of Jeremy Morgan, reliable offensive players are hard to find.
Morgan was held to 14 points during a poor shooting performance, but other offensive options are limited. Normally, they’re a deliberate, good shooting team, but the Panthers were an uncharacteristic 26.8 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from long distance. While they are the second-worst scoring team in the Valley (68.6 points per game), that has more to do with their deliberate style of play. But they plainly miss a proven second scorer.
They are still a mystery.
Are they the team that knocked off Arizona State and Oklahoma, or are they the team that has lost five of their last seven games? They have played a murderous schedule, but close losses to George Mason and Wyoming damage the narrative. There is no shame in losing twice to Xavier and despite the margin of defeat, dropping a decision to Iowa, who defeated Iowa State with the same ease that they handled the Panthers, isn’t criminal, either. But who are they?
Last season they were a team that turned it on down the stretch, won the MVC Tournament title and won an NCAA Tournament game. With North Carolina next before beginning conference play, the Panthers are searching for answers.
Northern Iowa travels to Chapel Hill on Dec. 21 before beginning MVC action on the 28th. Even after this game, it would not shock me to see ‘Jake the Giant Killer’ get his troops ready and stun the Tar Heels, but Jacobson has to find a second scorer, and his team must figure out a way to defend the glass.