UNI's defense hopes to cool red-hot Iowa State in Hy-Vee Classic

Men's basketball teams clash in Des Moines on Saturday

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson looks on during the second half of their NCAA basketball game at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson looks on during the second half of their NCAA basketball game at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — It’ll be a contrast of styles when Northern Iowa and Iowa State meet in the sixth annual Hy-Vee Classic on Saturday.

However, that’s familiar territory for UNI after having already played a number of power 5 teams with high-powered, up-tempo offenses.

The Cyclones enter the matchup averaging 77.8 points per game while UNI boasts the country’s fourth best scoring defense at 57.3 points per game. Needless to say, something will have to give between the in-state rivals.

There’s also a contrast in the current roster situations. Iowa State will be without guards Jakolby Long and Zoran Talley, limiting the Cyclones to just five guards. Those thin backcourt numbers also have impacted Iowa State’s practices, not having the numbers to go 5-on-5 for nearly a week-and-a-half, according to head coach Steve Prohm. The Panthers, for the first time this season, got their full complement of players healthy before their Dec. 7 win over UT Arlington. Most notably, Wyatt Lohaus’ return has added needed offense and depth to head coach Ben Jacobson’s rotation.

“It’s been great to have (a full roster) on game night knowing that Hunter and Wyatt are healthy,” Jacobson said. “Even (Austin) Phyfe, after missing that week or so of games and practices. It’s been great on game day, but, more valuable — maybe six of one, half dozen of the other — on the practice floor. With Hunter being a senior, with Wyatt being a junior, we missed those guys on the practice floor. So our practices have gotten better and they’ll continue to get better as those guys get even healthier.”

While depth, and consequently the ability to prepare with that depth, appear to be firmly in favor of the Panthers, the Cyclones haven’t lost since mid-November. A disappointing 74-56 loss at home to Milwaukee led to Prohm adjusting his backcourt, sliding Lindell Wiggington off the ball and placing Nick Weiler-Babb at point guard. Since Prohm’s adjustment, the Cyclones have won seven straight and Weiler-Babb has provided an all-conference level of production.

“The way that they approached things to start the year and played the first two games, making that move after those first two basketball games was a great adjustment by Steve,” Jacobson said. “It’s obviously had a big impact on their team. He’s got those guys now in positions where they are most comfortable, most confident and best able to make the game a little easier for their teammates. Whether it be score it or pass it, depending on who you’re talking about, he’s got those guys in the right spots now. A great move by Steve and his staff because those guys seem very confident right now.”

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