CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team has solidified itself as a regular-season and tournament-championship contender in the Missouri Valley Conference.
However, the Panthers (16-3, 5-2) suffered their second setback in MVC play Wednesday at Southern Illinois, 68-66. The Salukis have been tough at home all season long, with a 9-1 record at Banterra Center.
“We weren’t as sharp as we had been, and certainly not as sharp as we needed to be in that basketball game — really for the first 30 minutes,” Jacobson said.
Once again, turnover issues plagued UNI in its loss to SIU, committing 10 in the first half and finishing with 16. The Panthers sit second to last in the MVC in turnover margin (minus-1.68), and while some of Wednesday night’s issues were due to an inadvertent eye poke AJ Green suffered that caused blurred vision, their Euro-style offense is also part of the equation.
The free-flowing, read-and-react offense has taken UNI’s offensive statistics to long unmatched heights. Meanwhile, its demand for accurate and well-timed passes has provoked stretches of ball security problems.
“That’s what makes it a great offense for our team, for our personnel, is when you’ve got it going, things happen pretty fast and it puts a lot of pressure on the other team,” Jacobson said. “It also, in turn, puts a lot of responsibility on our players.”
UNI won’t have much margin for error Sunday when it comes to its ball security and sharpness. First-place Loyola-Chicago (14-6, 6-1) comes to McLeod Center (3 p.m., ESPNU) for a clash of Valley powers.
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The Ramblers are led by junior guard Tate Hall (14.0 ppg) and center Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig is averaging 15 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game as the Ramblers “point-center” and is making a strong case for conference player of the year.
“It’s hard to play against (a point-center) from a scheme standpoint,” Jacobson said. “Then it’s made much more difficult by the guy they have running it.”
Krutwig’s matchup with UNI’s Austin Phyfe could easily dictate which direction Sunday’s game goes, but Lucas Williamson’s matchup with Green also looms large.
Williamson (8.5 ppg) is a two-way defensive stopper for Loyola, who brings length and quickness to the backcourt.
“He’s a terrific player,” Jacobson said. “He’s one of the top defenders in the league and he’s a guy that really helps make their offense (go).”