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Northern Iowa has put itself in an NCAA Tournament pickle

The Panthers seem to be on the outside looking in after a great season that didn’t include an MVC Tournament title.

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NCAA Basketball: Northern Iowa at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The locals will probably be sweating whether it’s brisk or not on Selection Sunday in Cedar Falls.

Fresh off a win over Illinois State roughly 16 hours before, No. 8 seed Drake knocked off top-seeded Northern Iowa in Arch Madness 77-56. It was a tale of one and a half halves for the Bulldogs, which dominated much of the first 20 minutes, took a punch by the Panthers to tighten the game early in the second half, and then blew UNI away in the final 10 minutes.

The Bulldogs also may have blown away the Panthers’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

Ben Jacobson candidly, and refreshingly, told the Des Moines Register earlier in the week that he does look at bracket projections. He may not like what he sees as UNI heads home. The Missouri Valley regular season champion enjoyed a stellar season, with 25 wins and plenty of league hardware, including Coach of the Year for Jacobson and Player of the Year for sophomore guard AJ Green. But the Panthers’ resume would seem to land them squarely on the wrong side of the bubble, especially after the quarterfinal loss to the Bulldogs, a team they had beaten in Des Moines by 27 points just six days before.

Bart Torvik’s always helpful TourneyCast gave UNI just a 22.5 percent chance of an at-large prior to the Drake game. Their current NET ranking (36th) isn’t disqualifying prior to an inevitable drop, but Torvik’s similar resume comparison tool shows that Illinois State missed the field while failing to win the MVC Tournament in both 2017 and 2009 with metrics that would’ve slotted them at 33 in the NET both years, had the system been around.

With a NET of 167, the loss to Drake will plant a semi-damaging Quad 3 ding on the Panthers’ resume, bringing their overall Quad 3 record to 10-4. That’s still not terrible, and UNI did not stub its toe in Quad 4, going a perfect 9-0. Similarly, the Panthers did well in the first two quadrants, going 1-1 in Quad 1 and 3-2 in Quad 2. For the former, Spencer Haldeman’s heroics in Boulder gave UNI a marquee non-conference against a Colorado team that was ranked at the time.

But, as is often frustratingly the case with mid-majors, the lack of heft on the first two quadrants looks likely to do in the Panthers when the bracket is announced on March 15.

That doesn’t seem fair for a team that has looked the part virtually the entire season. Green exploded as one of the premier scorers in the country and as a whole, the Panthers scorched the nets from three while posting the country’s 18th-most efficient offense. Additionally, UNI recovered from a slight, two-game wobble in mid-February to win its final three games of the regular season and enter St. Louis with momentum.

The encouraging news? UNI is guaranteed a spot in the NIT, and has a young team led by Green and fellow sophomore center Austin Phyfe that may benefit from an extended run that could portend better things in the future.

Perhaps enough mayhem with other high major bubble teams could push the Panthers up the list and land them in the First Four. That, however, doesn’t seem likely.