UNI Panthers

UNI-Drake men's basketball rivalry has intrigue again

Panthers and Bulldogs meet Wednesday, 3 days after Drake's first loss

Drake's Roman Penn, left, and Northern Iowa's Austin Phyfe dive after a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA coll
Drake's Roman Penn, left, and Northern Iowa's Austin Phyfe dive after a loose ball during the first 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 — Not long after Darian DeVries’ arrival in 2017 as Drake head men’s basketball coach, the Bulldogs’ matchups with Northern Iowa (6-12, 4-8) quickly began to regain status as legitimate rivalry games.

The latest is 6 p.m. Wednesday (CBSSN) at Knapp Center.

Just last season, fans were treated to two regular-season instant classics.

AJ Green scored 34 points and the Panthers outlasted Drake, 83-73, in their first meeting Feb. 8 in Cedar Falls. Then, with UNI looking to bolster its NCAA Tournament at-large resume, it routed the Bulldogs 70-43 in the regular-season finale at Knapp Center on Feb. 29.

Ultimately, though, Drake was able to get the biggest win last season, tunning the Panthers and the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference with a 77-56 conference tournament quarterfinal win.

“I don’t think the records matter at all when we play,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said. “It’s a fun rivalry, I think, and it’s certainly very competitive. I think when you really watch UNI right now — they had to go through some big adjustments throughout the course of the year — I think they’re playing really good basketball.”

This season the tables have turned as Drake enters Wednesday night’s game 18-1 overall and 9-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Bulldogs are coming off their first loss of the season, though, 74-57 at Valparaiso on Sunday.

Blemish aside, Drake’s emergence as arguably the best mid-major in college basketball this season has been provoked by DeVries’ switch to three-quarter and full-court pressure defenses.

“They just throw a lot of things at you (defensively),” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “That’s going to be, for us, a very important part of the game — is how we handle that (defense). It’s not something that we see very often in our league and it’s been really good for them. It really fits their roster.”

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The Panthers (6-12, 4-8), meanwhile, are finding their footing with new schemes on offense and defense after having lost Green and Antwan Kimmons in early December. What’s remained unsettled, though, is Ben Jacobson’s rotation.

Most recently the return of freshman guard Tytan Anderson has Jacobson and his staff experimenting all over again with different lineups.

“It’s where our roster is at right now. I think it’ll continue and it’s not ideal,” Jacobson said. “It’s hardest on the guys not having a starting lineup that’s been set the entire year. Then, the next rotations, whether it be three guys or four guys.”

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