Tell me two things you know about Northern Iowa. If you said Ali Farokmanesh as the first and their blowing a 12-point lead with 44 seconds left in an NCAA tournament game as the second, congratulations! You know just as much about UNI basketball as like 98% of the people reading this post. If you listed a third item for extra credit, you probably played for UNI at some point.
The Panthers are coming into the 2016-2017 season fresh off of that season-ending collapse against Texas A&M. They're part of the Puerto Rico Tip-off (brought to you by Orlando!), so there's a chance Xavier will have already faced them once coming into the late-November matchup. Here's what UNI will bring to the table against X.
One thing to love about Ben Jacobson is that he's been successful at UNI for basically a decade and has so far rejected offers to go elsewhere. Jacobson has compiled a 220-117 record as head coach of the Panthers. His offense is kind of grindingly efficient. His teams never hurry, rarely turn the ball over, and usually shoot fairly well from inside and beyond the arc. They also almost completely abandon missed shots to their fate; last year they were dead last in the nation in OReb%.
On the other end, Jacobson is successful with a clean and compact style of defense. They don't do a lot of contesting out beyond the arc or force turnovers, but they are disciplined in not fouling and are staunch defenders of the defensive glass. Opponents' EFG% has generally been high against Jacobson's teams, but that first shot is likely to be the only shot teams get.
This is going to sting a bit, Panthers fans. Gone is team leader in usage rate Wes Washpun. He was a 6'1" guard who led the team in scoring and assists by a wide margin and was a virtual tie for second-leading rebounder. He posted 14.2/4.1/5.3 per game on .467/.292/.720 shooting. Efficiency wasn't always his thing, but he spent more time with the ball in his hands than anyone else on the team, and that's hard to replace.
Everybody loves a good second-leading scorer though, which makes it all the more of a shame that 6'4" shooting guard Matt Bohannon is also gone. He was first on the team in minutes and second with an ORtg of 117. The team's best shooter by EFG%, he fired off a .441/.401/.813 line on his way to 11.5/4.1/0.9 per game. Also gone is tournament first-round hero 6'6" F Paul Jesperson, who was fourth on the team in points and rebounding with a 10.8/4.0/0.9 game line on .428/.396/.885 shooting.
A lot of firepower walked out the door at the end of the season for UNI. On a team with such limited depth, that's likely to present a problem.
Far and away the best returning guy is rising senior Jeremy Morgan. He went for 11.3/5.3/2.3 and led the team in steals last year while shooting .485/.407/.805 on his way to a 118.3 ORtg, best on the team. He also led the team in rebounding by a wide margin. If he can stay efficient while increasing his usage rate from the 18.9% it was last year, he'll be a star for UNI.
Forward Klint Carlson, owner of a respectable 7.4/3.6/0.7 line on .484/.321/.778 last year is also back. He's joined by hulking big man Bennett Koch, who gobbled up possessions (25.4% usage rate) without being particularly efficient (97 ORtg) last year on his way to 7.6/3.5/0.4. Rounding out the interesting returning guys is Wyatt Lohaus, who hit 18 of his 56 three-point attempts last year. He'll get an early look at the point guard minutes left behind by Wes Washpun.
UNI will welcome three players who took a redshirt last year to full eligibility this year; let's talk about them. Spencer Haldeman is a 6'1" guard who gets buckets. He earned all-state honors in high school and is known primarily for his scoring ability. Luke McDonnell is a 6'10" center who needed to put on weight to compete at the D1 level. He can score with both hands from the post and is continuing to grow into his body. Justin Dahl is a 6'11" center who weighs a lot more than McDonnell. He was also all-state in high school and could challenge for starter's minutes right away if he's the answer to UNI's rebounding woes.
Hunter Rhodes is a JuCo transfer originally from Illinois. He shot 44.3% from deep as a sophomore and jarred multiple threes in 18 games last year. Guard Isaiah Brown is another shooter, a 6'5" incoming freshman guard from Texas who put up 14/4/4 in his prep year. Forward Tanner Lohaus and 5'11" guard Juwan McCloud round out the incoming players Jacobson will be trying to integrate into this year's team.
If you're going to bring back one big piece from last year's team, your most efficient offensive player wouldn't be a bad place to start. UNI has done just that. Koch and Carlson combined for 15 PPG in just over 40 MPG last year; it wouldn't be surprising to see either or both of them step up into the scoring vacuum as well. Throw in a trio of redshirts and a JuCo shooter and the pieces are there. Jacobson's teams play slow, patient basketball and don't give away the freebie war. It stings a mid-major to watch more than half of your scoring graduate, but the Panthers are in a solid position to go on as contenders in the MVC.