CEDAR RAPIDS – Northern Iowa’s postseason began much like the rockiness of its regular season. Sunday the team thought it held a good chance to qualify for the NIT. When ESPN announced the 32 teams without mentioning UNI, Pandora’s Box opened.
First, the Panthers were set to host Air Force Tuesday night in the College Insider Tournament. Minutes later, UNI athletic director Troy Dannen announced on Twitter the Panthers’ opponent in the CIT was TBD. Soon, North Dakota replaced TBD.
The changes weren’t finished. Monday night, Northern Iowa announced the game was moved to Wednesday at 7 p.m. due to blizzard conditions in North Dakota.
When the dust – or snow – settles, UNI will host UND for the second time season.
“I think that helps the guys, to be playing someone that we already played this year,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. “It’s someone they’re a little bit familiar with so when we turn the film on, they’ve got an idea of who the guys are and who they’re going to be guarding.”
The film will show one player who didn’t dress the last time the two met. Troy Huff, North Dakota’s leading scorer sat out in the teams’ first meeting, a 72-47 UNI blowout win.
The junior missed nine of the first 10 games of the season with a broken jaw. UND won just two of the nine he missed. Since his return, North Dakota is 14-9.
“We’ll do most of our work from the last two weeks, what’s happened toward the end of their conference play and their conference tournament,” Jacobson said. “That’s where we’ll get most of our stuff from a scouting stand point.”
Northern Iowa presents the same problem for North Dakota. Anthony James, UNI’s leading scorer also didn’t play in the first meeting, serving the final game of his three-game suspension. Despite winning all three games without him, the Panthers struggled without him when the competition improved. James missed the second half against Denver and all of UNI’s road game vs. Southern Illinois. Both ended with Northern Iowa losses.
“It’s one of those things you don’t have control over,” Jacobson said. “That’s why I don’t talk with our guys about it. They’re not allowed to have excuses for anything that doesn’t happen that’s positive when it comes to winning a basketball game.”
With James in the lineup, UNI boasted plenty of positives to close out the season. With its starters healthy, the Panthers finished the regular season winning seven straight and 10 of 15 overall.
Two of those 10 came against Creighton and Wichita State, both NCAA Tournament teams. With those wins and a resume build on a top 20 non-conference strength of schedule, UNI thought it had enough for an NIT berth. Instead, it’s reserved to the CIT, but the effort won’t be any less.
Said Jacoboson,“I told them (Monday), ‘I don’t care which road you take, you can take whatever route you want, but we’ll be ready to play.’”