CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa men’s basketball tips off its regular season Tuesday night against Bemidji State. After a 2-0 trip through its exhibition season that featured 96 points per game, UNI seems poised to outdo its 16-win output from 2017-18.
Here are three things we learned from head coach Ben Jacobson on Monday.
1. Injured Pickford and Phyfe inching closer to returning
Good news continues to trickle in for Tywhon Pickford (stress fracture) and Austin Phyfe (vasovagal syncope).
Pickford participated without limitations in multiple individual workouts last week before joining team activities at practice this weekend for the first time since suffering his injury this past summer. Jacobson ruled the sophomore out for Tuesday’s opener vs. Bemidji State but said it’s likely he’ll play Saturday vs. Texas-Arlington.
Phyfe returned to practice this weekend for the first time in over three weeks, participating for 45 minutes each day. Jacobson maintained that Phyfe is still out indefinitely, but added that his conditioning is well behind Pickford’s at this point.
2. Versatility and skill level can overcome gadget defenses
As A.J. Green steadily made his way to a game-high 27 points in last Thursday’s 82-63 exhibition win against Upper Iowa, the Peacocks sought to wear down the freshman phenom with full-court man-to-man defense. Green wasn’t slowed by the adjustment but did defer to Wyatt Lohaus on a number of possessions, effectively moving himself to an off-guard role each time.
“This roster is built and lends itself to having a number of guys on the floor that can handle and pass the basketball,” Jacobson said. “With what we’ve done so far offensively it doesn’t matter as much who brings it (up) after a made shot. A.J. can start it down in the corner, he can start it on the wing, he can start in a different spot and still the basketball is going to get to him.”
3. Starting lineup and rotation
A.J. Green, Wyatt Lohaus, Trae Berhow, Isaiah Brown and Luke McDonnell started both of UNI’s exhibition games and Jacobson said Monday they will be Tuesday night’s starters for the regular-season opener.
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Spencer Haldeman, Biggie Goldman and Miles Wentzien were the first three off Jacobson’s bench in the preseason and are expected to continue as rotation regulars