If you could go back in time and change just 33.3 seconds of the University of Northern Iowa’s season, the Panthers would be sitting in a tie for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 9-4 conference record and on a seven-game winning streak.
Instead, UNI is in a tie for fourth in the conference, even as the Panthers have won five of their last seven heading into Wednesday’s game against the struggling Creighton Bluejays.
“There isn’t one team that’s completely separated from the group,” coach Ben Jacobson said at his weekly news conference on Monday. “You’ve got a bunch of teams in the middle with good players and good coaches.”
“There are a lot of seniors in the league this year. Regardless of what you’re record is, when you’re a senior in this league you’re going to play well and you’re going to play hard. That makes it difficult for everybody.”
The Panthers won just their second conference road game on Sunday, putting them in a tie with Evansville for fourth place. While UNI is just two games out of first place they are also just two games ahead of ninth-place Missouri State.
“Because of AAU basketball there’s no real surprises. Being intimidated by other guys is no longer a part of college basketball because they’ve played against each other from the time they were in seventh or eighth grade,” Jacobson said.
UNI will see a familiar face in Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott on Wednesday. McDermott had agreed to play his college career as a Panther before ultimately deciding to play for his father Greg at Creighton.
“Doug’s always had a great feel and a knack for scoring. His versatility has improved and increased because he’s worked so hard and his body has caught up physically over the past year and a half. Now he’s able to do some things he wasn’t able to do two and a half years ago,” Jacobson said of the former UNI recruit.
The Panthers will try to add another twist to this season’s story as they host Creighton Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Cedar Falls on Panther Pride night.