116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — A 5-7 start wasn’t expected, but the Northern Iowa men’s basketball team has moved into Missouri Valley Conference play with the benefit of knowing what it needs to do to reach its potential.
Even better for the Panthers, they began showing improvement in those areas in Sunday’s MVC home-opener, an 83-61 win against Evansville.
Defensively, Jacobson detailed on Monday a need for his team to better contest opponents' 3-point shots, and that doing so requires more work to stop drives and sharpen help rotations — the core principles of the 16th-year coach’s trademark pack-line defense.
“Overall, we were pretty good guarding the ball. We were pretty good in terms of our positioning. We were really good in terms of our rotations,” Jacobson said with regard to Sunday’s win. “I believe it was 16 times where Evansville attempted a 3-point shot and we were not nearly close enough. We’ve got that broken down between 2 and 4 feet and 4 feet and farther.”
Offensively, Sunday’s 83-point effort was a good sign of improvements made and perhaps getting closer to performing more consistently.
Jacobson said losses in Hawaii to Liberty and Wyoming included too many non-quality possessions that provoked a deep film dive from assistant coach Seth Tuttle.
“We did a lot of studying,” Jacobson said. “So (Sunday), you saw guys driving (against) closeouts and getting points at the rim, and not just shooting a 3 because they were open enough to shoot a 3. There was a better opportunity available within that possession. That was a noticeable change in our game (Sunday) compared to the two games that we played in Hawaii.”
Austin Phyfe’s (long COVID) status is another factor that impacts the build toward more consistency. After non-COVID illness began running through the team more than a week ago the senior suffered a setback in his conditioning and only played four minutes in Sunday’s win despite starting.
Jacobson acknowledged that Phyfe will continue to be day-to-day, but feels his options available at center — Cole Henry, Noah Carter and James Betz — will help the offense find more consistency as their game minutes pile up.
“I just still feel like there’s going to be some inconsistency until we get the roster all the way full and we don’t know what that means with Phyfe,” Jacobson said.
Up next for the Panthers is Valparaiso (8-6, 1-1) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN+). The Beacons are a veteran team that also features a number of transfers who have fit together well enough to lead the MVC in steals and be second in assists per game.
“Playing against an older team, even though it’s a group that haven’t been together for a long time, but that’s, as we know, the new era of college basketball,” Jacobson said. “They’ve played good basketball here in the last month. Matt (Lottich’s) guys, they always play extremely hard and he’s done a really good job with his guys.”