116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Its fifth-place standing in the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball preseason poll didn’t suggest that Northern Iowa would contend for a championship this season.
UNI entered the season inexperienced, and perhaps the youngest of Coach Ben Jacobson’s 17-year tenure, but his track record in the MVC kept the Panthers in the top half of the poll.
Fast forward nearly three months and the Panthers (9-8, 5-2 MVC) have won four straight and sit in a tie for second place in the MVC.
“It feels good to see the guys playing the way they’re playing,” Jacobson said. “These guys have done such a good job of two things. One, (their) preparation has been really good and they’ve gotten better at it. Better at taking a scouting report to the game floor and really making it work. Two, the other thing they’ve done is they have played their tails off.”
UNI’s most-recent win featured a comeback Tuesday night against Murray State at McLeod Center. The Panthers went on an 18-0 run and ultimately got a 75-67 win over the Racers.
Among the multiple positives that continued to unfold was a record-setting effort from redshirt sophomore Tytan Anderson. The former North Scott prep recorded his eighth double-double of the season and grabbed a McLeod Center record 18 rebounds against the Racers.
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Anderson leads the MVC in rebounding by a considerable margin at 9.76 per game. Jacobson said his unique combination of forward size and the athletic tools of a guard is part of what helps give him that prowess.
“He’s got a competitive nature. He’s got a strong will. He’s going to bring, and he’s going to bring it, and he’s going to bring it,” Jacobson said. “When we offered Tytan we went with it just because of who he is as a young guy. There wasn’t any challenge that he was going to shy away from.”
Another positive was redshirt freshman Landon Wolf, who continued to climb out of a December shooting slump, pouring in five 3-pointers for 15 points.
“He’s a high-level shooter,” Jacobson said. “As long as you’re putting in the time and you’re working at it, you’ve always got the green light, and that’s been the case with Landon. I’m most proud of him that he didn’t put his head in the sand.”
Jacobson pointed out the areas his staff is focused on leveling up before playing for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in March at the MVC Tournament.
“The one that we’ve pushed at the offensive end of the floor is playing with pace,” Jacobson said. “The defensive end, the numbers are getting better. So, we’re doing some things scheme-wise better.”
Success in Nashville rather than St. Louis is the focus now for UNI, though. The Panthers face off against Belmont (12-6, 5-2) — one of the MVC’s three new members this season — for the first time in program history on Saturday at 4 p.m. (ESPN+).
“Their passing and shooting is at a high level,” Jacobson said. “They put so much pressure on you with their offense. Their 2-point percentage is really good, but then they rack (points) up on you with their 3-pointers. We know that when we’ve been good — we want to play in transition — we want the game to be going up and down (and) that feeds into their game a little bit.”