Upper Iowa heads into NCAA tournament looking for an upset

Slated to face No. 1 seed Northwest Missouri State, Peacocks search for first tourney win

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IOWA CITY — For the first time since the 2012-13 season, Upper Iowa is dancing in the NCAA Division II tournament.

Coming in as the No. 8 seed, the Peacocks will face No. 1 seed Northwest Missouri State in the first round Saturday at 6 p.m. in Maryville, Mo. A tough route to take, but there’s no excuses coming from Upper Iowa (22-10) and it won’t be the first time this season it’s seen the Bearcats.

“We when saw them earlier this season, we weren’t playing our best basketball,” senior guard Jimmy Roth said. “We’ve grown since then and we have a good plan of attack.”

A high-powered offense, described as ‘spread’ by head coach Brooks McKowen, is averaging 78.9 points a game. The Peacocks love to run the floor and aren’t afraid to take quick shots.

The idea is to take quick ones, but controlled. For a group laden with upperclassmen (Upper Iowa starts four) things have panned out fairly well.

Saturday, however, they will be tested. Northwest won the first game between the teams, 87-52, and is allowing opposing teams to score just 62.1 points per game this season.

The Bearcats are forcing turnovers and don’t make a whole lot of mistakes on their own. Sitting at 29-1, their record is imposing as well. But, like any tournament, upsets happen and Upper Iowa plans to play like its turn is here.

“We think we match up with them pretty well, size-wise,” McKowen said. “We’re gonna have to slow them down and find a way to push the tempo so they play our speed.”

Doing that is going to require stops, steals and a good transition game. Opponents are averaging over 13 turnovers against Upper Iowa, which will be hard-pressed to shut down the efficient Bearcat offense that’s shooting a scorching 52.4 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from behind the arc.

But, McKowen says, he has faith that this group of players can be the one to get it done. He felt there was a lot of pressure for his team to turn the corner into contention for titles this year and feels they’ve handled themselves well.

Upper Iowa made it all the way to the Northern Sun tournament final two weeks ago and seems to be poised to continue the upward trajectory. This trip to the NCAA D-II tournament is just the second in the Peacocks history and Upper Iowa has yet to win a game in the tournament.

But the hope for the team is that changes this year.

McKowen credits the team staying healthy as one of the major keys to the Peacocks success this season. There have been injury troubles over the last couple seasons, something he hopes stays in the rearview mirror.

There’s confidence around the team and in a tournament setting that can be a huge boon.

“It’s an exciting feeling, this brings out of a lot of emotions,” Roth said. “We expected to succeed this year and it’s really been a lot of fun.

“Now it’s time to make a run in this tournament.”

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com

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