CEDAR FALLS — Hold up blind resumes of the two NCAA Division I men’s basketball games set for Thursday night in Iowa and by the numbers, the better game would not be the one in Ames.
Northern Iowa and UT Arlington enter Thursday’s matchup with RPIs of 30 and 49, respectively. The Mavericks, winners of five straight, are led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Kevin Hervey who’s averaging 23.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. However, point guard Erick Neal and his nation-leading 10.3 assists per game is the one at the controls for a Maverick offense that averages 80 points per game.
So, while UT Arlington (7-1) may not be a brand name across the college basketball landscape, it comes to Cedar Falls with a potent offense and plenty of recent success for a 7 p.m. game at McLeod Center (ESPN3).
“Tremendously well-coached,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “They’ve got eight seniors on their team. It’s a group that won 27 games last year. They have got tremendous players. Their point guard puts a lot of pressure on your team in transition, puts a lot of pressure on your team with the ball-screen. The two guards make 3s, but they’re really, really tough. And their power forward is an NBA guy. He’s got the size, the length. He scores. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field. He’s shooting almost 40 percent from 3. He’s got a way about him in terms of being unselfish, but always there when his team needs him. Then they’ve got a 7-footer starting at center. I put them on my ballot last week in the top 25.”
Up against their third top-50 opponent already this season, the Panthers are poised to benefit from the return of Wyatt Lohaus. Lohaus returned to practice late last week without any setbacks, and according to Jacobson, the junior guard won’t be held back against the Mavericks.
“As long as he practices the way he was able to Friday and Saturday, if that continues, there won’t be any limits unless I get one from our trainer or from Wyatt,” Jacobson said. “Our starting lineup on Thursday will be the same as it’s been. We know how important he is to our team and we know what he’s capable of. So, if he has three good practices and he’s able to go he’s going to be a big part of Thursday’s game.”
The Panthers (6-2) have been searching for additional offense to go with their fifth in the nation scoring defense mark of 58.5 points per game. Lohaus’ return, along with what appears to have been a breakout game for Klint Carlson in its 77-68 win over UNLV, has UNI feeling much better about its offense. Carlson poured in a career-high 22 points against the Runnin’ Rebels, something Jacobson admitted was most exciting about the win.
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“I think (the UNLV game has) really got a chance to propel Klint forward,” Jacobson said. “As we started the year I felt like he was going to have to take a lot of shots. I don’t feel that way as much right now. I feel like he can continue to approach the game the way he feels comfortable. I think he’ll continue to play with a little more aggressiveness at the offensive end and that’s going to get him really close to what this team needs.”