CEDAR FALLS — Struggling on both ends of the floor and without forward Austin Phyfe, Northern Iowa heads to Des Moines to take on No. 21 Iowa in the final Hy-Vee Classic at Wells Fargo Arena. Tipoff is 6 p.m. (BTN).
The Panthers (4-5) enter what’s likely the last non-conference matchup between the in-state rivals for the foreseeable future having lost three of their last four games, with a narrow defeat of Division-III Dubuque.
UNI coach Ben Jacobson hasn’t passed on any opportunities this season to mention the need for his team’s defense to improve, and said this week that the Hawkeyes’ transition offense, interior presence, and movement on offense are all important to prepare for.
“They’ve got guys that can shoot it from the 3-point line in transition and that can get you (behind) in a hurry,” Jacobson said. “They do, I think, as good a job as anybody of getting the basketball inside when they’re coming in transition. And they’ve got multiple guys that can run to the front of the rim and plant themselves right there, and they find those guys. So they put immediate pressure on your defense in transition.”
The Panthers will likely be challenged most by Iowa’s size in the frontcourt. Jacobson has used a four-guard starting lineup in all nine games and told The Gazette this week that he didn’t anticipate any lineup changes.
Trae Berhow (6-5, 195 pounds) or Isaiah Brown (6-7, 180) are likely to match up against Tyler Cook (6-9, 250). Cook leads the Hawkeyes (7-2) in scoring at 16.6 points per game and could see double-teams each time he or teammate Luka Garza touch the ball in the interior.
“Inside with Cook and Garza, and then coming off the bench with a couple guys inside, if it isn’t in transition they’re looking to get touches inside with those guys,” Jacobson said. “So we’re going to have to defend the paint after we defend them in transition.”
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Whether it be inside with Cook and Garza, or on the perimeter with Jordan Bohannon or Isaiah Moss, Jacobson ultimately came to a summary of the Hawkeyes’ offense.
“They want to hit you fast,” Jacobson said. “That could be from the 3-point line. It could be in the middle of the paint.”
The Panthers enter the Hy-Vee Classic finale as 12.5-point underdogs with no future games scheduled against either the Hawkeyes or Cyclones. So, while the Hy-Vee Classic has met its end, is there any scenario where UNI continues to get an annual shot at Iowa or Iowa State?
“That’s a great question,” Jacobson said. “I don’t know what those circumstances would be. At this point there haven’t been any discussions. So I don’t know what those circumstances would be at this point.”