UNI Panthers

UNI men's basketball takeaways: Rotation plans, schedule news and more

Panthers will open season next Wednesday against West Virginia in Sioux Falls

Northern Iowa's Austin Phyfe, right, holds the ball as Drake's Roman Penn (12) defends during the second half of an NCAA
Northern Iowa's Austin Phyfe, right, holds the ball as Drake's Roman Penn (12) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference men's tournament Friday, March 6, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa men’s basketball held its annual media day Wednesday.

Here’s what we learned.

Rotation nine deep, starting lineup unsettled

UNI coach Ben Jacobson is unsettled on his fifth starter just seven days ahead of the season-opener.

Juniors AJ Green and Austin Phyfe, along with seniors Trae Berhow and Tywhon Pickford will start according to the 14th-year head coach. The fifth starter will come from the group of Noah Carter, Antwan Kimmons, Nathan Heise and Bowen Born. Jacobson said his rotation is nine deep with James Betz earning the role as Phyfe’s backup.

He also revealed that George Mason transfer forward Goanar Mar will not play to begin the season after the NCAA recently denied his transfer waiver. Jacobson added that UNI is appealing the NCAA’s decision.

“We like what we’re seeing at practice, (but) we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Jacobson said. “Once you get past those four (older guys) you’re talking about sophomores, redshirt freshmen and freshmen. You’ve got a bunch of guys that have played very few minutes that are going to be in the starting lineup or playing a bunch of minutes come next Wednesday.”

Offense looking for another level in year three

Entering year three of running its European-style, read-and-react offense, UNI continues to search for ways to keep its Missouri Valley counterparts on their heels.

Green echoed comments from Jacobson stressing more pace this season before offering more detail on how they’re working to improve what’s become a high-powered system.

“Once we get through that first action we realize it’s easier for teams to defend that, (so) getting to that second and third action quickly, that’s where you can kind of gain that advantage and make plays from there,” Green said.

This season will be the second for Phyfe running the offense’s “point center” position as its primary distributor and decision-maker. A role he’s looking to do more with after a year of experience.

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“Being able to add to (my reads) and just having that become more natural to me,” Phyfe said. “Then, (I’ve) also been trying to work a little bit on my outside game.”

Mitigating COVID-19 exposure logistically and technologically

Jacobson and the MVC are both taking extra steps to mitigate the team’s risk to COVID-19. While not required, the Panthers are wearing masks in practice to mitigate potential spread, and as a result Jacobson said he’s increased the teams water breaks.

Meanwhile, the MVC has acquired Kinexon bracelets for its teams to wear. The bracelets track which players and staff have been in close contact with whom, and for how long, to precisely contact trace if a team member tests positive for COVID-19.

Panthers swap MTEs, non-conference schedule nearly finalized

After an original verbal commitment to a multi-team event in Lincoln, Neb., UNI announced Wednesday that it will instead participate in the Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D. The event will tip off UNI’s season next Wednesday and Thursday. The Panthers will open against West Virginia — who they lost to at the Cancun Challenge last year, 60-55 — and play either Memphis or St. Mary’s in the event’s second game.

The rest of UNI’s non-conference schedule includes home games against Richmond and Green Bay, and road games at Wisconsin and Marshall with a neutral site game in Sioux Falls against New Mexico State. Jacobson said it’s likely that two non-DI opponents will fill their two remaining schedule openings.

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