CEDAR FALLS — While the Northern Iowa men’s basketball team’s current situation couldn’t be much worse — it currently shares the bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference standings with Valparaiso — a lot of what ails it is correctable.
Head coach Ben Jacobson continues to try and find more points from his offense, but UNI’s scoring defense — ranked No. 11 nationally — keeps hopes of a much needed winning streak alive.
Jacobson pointed out after Saturday’s loss to Indiana State — UNI’s fourth in its last five games — that in a number of recent games, issues such as communication on ball screens, reaching at the cost of staying in front of a dribbler, and the overall attention to detail for 40 minutes have cost it games. Enough offense has been there too many times for the Panthers (11-13, 3-9) to be sitting in the cellar of the MVC.
Up next for UNI is third-place Bradley. The Braves (17-8, 7-5) knocked off first-place Loyola a week ago and enter Wednesday night’s matchup at McLeod Center (7 p.m., ESPN3) with the nation’s 15th-best scoring defense in tow.
“I think one of the reasons why they have played so well defensively is they play it the same on every possession,” Jacobson said. “I used to say that about Wichita State. They don’t make a lot of adjustments for who they’re playing against. They do what they do defensively, then you’ve got to find a way to beat it. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Defensively the challenge for the Panthers will be defending Darrell Brown (13.4 points per game) and the many ball screens third-year head coach Brian Wardle involves him in.
“We need to find a way to keep Brown in front of us,” Jacobson said. “We’re going to have to do a tremendous job guarding the ball screen.”
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While the matchup-specific details will be key for Northern Iowa against on Brown and the Braves, it will continue to come back to its attention to detail defensively. In its prior meeting with the Braves this season, the teams were tied at 42 with just over 14 minutes to go until defensive breakdowns led to a game-clinching 14-0 run by Bradley.
“We had a pretty good 25 minutes (last time),” Jacobson said. “They turned it on us in a hurry in transition. The lead that we had built over the 25 minutes had went away in three or four minutes. We’ve got to do a better job with our transition defense. Offensively we’ve played pretty well at home — in the last four (games). We’re going to have to be able to do some things offensively against a very good defensive team.”