UNI Panthers

Defense still the focus for UNI men's basketball

Panthers look for season sweep against Bradley

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson speaks to Northern Iowa Panthers guards AJ Green (4) and Trae Berhow (11) during the first half of a game at McLeod Center in Cedar Falls on Sunday, January 13, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson speaks to Northern Iowa Panthers guards AJ Green (4) and Trae Berhow (11) during the first half of a game at McLeod Center in Cedar Falls on Sunday, January 13, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson acknowledged this week he feels his team is playing at another level since the end of 2018.

“We’ve certainly changed levels here in conference play, right?” he said. “We’re a different basketball team.”

While Jacobson praised his squad for going up a level at the beginning of conference play, the 13th-year head coach explained how improving defensive activity is what will unlock his team’s next level.

“We had a handful of possessions (against Missouri State) where we’re close to in the right spot, or in the right spot, but we’re standing and watching,” Jacobson said. “And then we react after the ball moves instead of getting a half a step ahead of the play, then we’re a half a step behind the play. Especially right now, (because) teams — no matter who you’re playing — teams aren’t making as many mistakes as they were making in November or December.”

Up next for UNI (10-13, 5-5) is last-place Bradley. Although the Braves (11-12, 3-7) sit just four games out of first, they’ve undergone more struggles than any Valley team. Four of Bradley’s seven conference losses have been by double-digits, including its 65-47 conference-opening loss to UNI. Jacobson said the Panthers will need a new plan to sweep the season series.

“It was five games ago when (Bradley) made an adjustment to their lineup,” Jacobson said. “That adjustment to their lineup — they’ve won three of the five (since) — so they’ve had success with it. More versatility in that starting lineup right now with (Luke) van Bree in with (Elijah) Childs at the 4 and 5.”

At 5-5 in Missouri Valley Conference play with eight games remaining, the Panthers — in a three-way tie for third-place — are surprisingly still mathematically in the hunt for a conference championship and No. 1 seed at the conference tournament. Given the unusual nature of the Valley being up for grabs to as many as eight teams, Jacobson admitted he enjoys checking the MVC’s standings, among others.

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“I’ve always left (checking standings) up to the players,” Jacobson said. “We don’t talk about the standings. I love (standings). I love seeing where teams are at. I just don’t talk about them. We talk about practice.”

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