CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson explained this week how his team’s highly competitive practices are largely behind a 10-1 start.
“They show up and work at it,” Jacobson said. “Obviously that’s a good sign and it has to happen, but it also helps you a lot and I think it helped us going into the Colorado game. They get after each other and compete at a high level. That’s not only the best thing you can do, it’s really the only thing you can do when you’ve got that kind of time (between games).”
Quality practices leading to wins seems simple, but Jacobson has been talking about the importance of this team’s practices since back in September on media day. The comments he made then were not designed to criticize the returnees on his roster for not practicing hard in previous seasons, but rather to point out another level of effort and competitiveness was attainable. After all, Jacobson had witnessed it before with previous teams that went on to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Beyond practice Jacobson pointed out the health of Austin Phyfe and Tywhon Pickford being a big factor in the Panthers’ early season success.
And while this UNI team is doing many things correctly and productively, Jacobson’s most recent self-scout of his squad displayed a defense too often behind by a split-second.
“There’s a number of things that we’re doing pretty good, but we’ve got to work to get ahead of the action a little bit,” Jacobson said. “Being a split-second behind the action puts a lot of pressure on your next play. Whether that’s a rotation, a closeout, a blockout — whatever it might be — and right now we’re just a split-second or maybe a fraction of a second behind the play in some instances. So we’ve got to find a way to get that where its even.
“And then, if you’re going to be one of the better defensive teams in the country, you’ve got to get it to the other side of that.”
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A win at 1 p.m. Sunday against Marshall (5-6) would give UNI its best non-conference record since 2014-15. It would also benefit its already impressive NET rating (24) and RPI (22) before Missouri Valley Conference play begins Dec. 31 at Illinois State (5-7).
“From what I’ve watched so far (Marshall is) very active (and) puts a lot of pressure on you with their length, with their pressure on the ball,” Jacobson said. “(They) put a lot of pressure on you with their transition offense, and then the way in which they go about offense in the halfcourt.”