CEDAR FALLS — Five games in and still on the hunt for its first Missouri Valley Conference win, Northern Iowa is “searching.”
The Panthers have shown glimpses of improvement, most notably in their last two games against Loyola and Indiana State.
It hasn’t. however, been enough to get the Panthers their first MVC win.
“We’re searching for some things offensively,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “And as I said the execution and the purpose that we had offensively against Loyola was really good, and a good step forward at that end. But we still need to get more possessions, and we were able to do that at Indiana State. So, now it’s a matter of not only moving that forward and being able to do both of those things in the same game, but also get upwards of seven, or eight or nine of our players being comfortable and being confident and being able to get both of those things going in the same game.
“I think we’re really close.”
As UNI (8-9, 0-5) trends closer to piecing together a winning performance, it is tasked with hosting new Missouri Valley member Valparaiso. The Crusaders (11-7, 2-3) have won their last two games, beating Southern Illinois and Drake.
“Their last two games against Southern Illinois and against Drake they have shot the basketball at a high rate from the 3-point line,” Jacobson said. “That’s been part of (their success), but I think a bigger part of it has been their ability to stretch the floor with the ball-screen, and they’ve got two really big guys at that center position, and when those guys are rolling down the middle after they set a ball-screen it puts a lot of pressure on your defense because they’ve got them surrounded with guys that can make 3-point shots.
“Defensively, in their last two games, they’ve really looked sharp.”
Valparaiso is led by senior guard Tevonn Walker, who’s averaging 16.6 points per game.
In their loss to Indiana State, the Panthers, specifically Isaiah Brown, struggled to guard Sycamore freshman guard Jordan Barnes, who scored a game-high 27 points. Struggles like that may not decide the outcome, Jacobson said, but once a few add up — and paired with a struggling offense — it’s a factor in the 0-5 conference record.
“Even though we haven’t given up a lot of points in the conference games, we’re still making too many of those mistakes we have control over,” Jacobson said.
Northern Iowa hosts Valparaiso Saturday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.