Northern Iowa’s promising season has not gone as planned. The Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason favorite and defending league champion has had more that its share of speed bumps, but the latest announcement is a major pothole.
The reigning Valley Player of the Year A.J. Green is out for the season. Head coach Ben Jacobson has announced that the team’s leading scorer is having season-ending hip surgery. Green had been held out of the team’s last two games. He scored 24 points during his final game of the season.
UNI (1-4) started the season without third-leading scorer Trae Berhow and lost three narrow decisions in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Berhow came back, but sophomore guard Antwan Kimmons took a leave of absence to return home to help with family needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Green, who explored the NBA draft in the offseason, is lost. All-conference center Austin Phyfe has been hobbled with a bad ankle and freshman guard Tytan Anderson is dealing with a knee problem.
After last weekend’s game with Green Bay was canceled due to a false positive test within the UNI program, Jacobson took some personnel inventory and decided his players would physically and emotionally benefit if they took some time off. He’s sending his players home to see family.
Jacobson said the team will resume practice later this week.
“We will resume our regular COVID-19 protocols and prepare for our MVC opener when they get back to campus.” he said.
Who is the new favorite?
With Green out of the Panther lineup, who becomes the favorite to take the title? Obviously Loyola University Chicago and Bradley were picked second and third in the preseason poll and both have had early season success.
Bradley (4-2) was a couple of missed free throws away from beating Xavier and lost by four to South Dakota State. Their two blow-out wins against non-Division I opponents don’t teach us much, but the predicted depth, veteran guard play and domination by forward Elijah Childs lead us to believe the Braves should be in the hunt.
We will learn a lot about Loyola (3-0) this week. When Northern Iowa pulled out of playing Wisconsin, Porter Moser jumped in. The Ramblers play the Badgers Tuesday night and then take on nationally ranked Richmond on Friday.
Loyola and Bradley should now be the favorites to win the Valley, but don’t count out Jacobson’s Panthers, or the undefeated Drake Bulldogs (6-0).
This week’s schedule also includes Indiana State’s visit to nationally ranked Saint Louis and Missouri State’s first game of the season.
Conference games in the MVC begin on Dec. 27.