116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS - Northern Iowa men's basketball coach Ben Jacobson is convinced his team can raise its game to another level before the season is over, but time is running out.
Over the past few weeks, Jacobson has been encouraged by more stretches of solid play on both ends of the floor and the hope is an extended layoff between games of eight days can help the Panthers reach that next level before next week's Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
'(We've) got into some competitive type drills. Some four-on-four cutthroat in the half-court - make it-take it to three with the offense, make it-take it to three with the defense,” he said. 'Just able to do some things to really ramp up the competitive part of practices again.
'Then, just getting some reps for guys that haven't played as much. That's been good as well.”
Another important factor in UNI's quest to raise its game is players finally becoming comfortable with the season-long adjustments that have been made as a result of injuries and absences.
'For some guys they're in a pretty good spot at both ends,” Jacobson said. 'I would say we've got probably five or six guys that probably feel pretty comfortable and pretty confident with things that we're doing. Then, we've got another four, five guys that have missed some practices or haven't played as much that are still - even late in the year - still working to get a little more comfortable.”
Jacobson mentioned Tytan Anderson, Tywhon Pickford and James Betz among those who have dealt with injuries and missed practices to put them behind the five or six who have settled in to the offensive and defensive adjustments.
Up next for UNI is its final two-game series of the regular season at Illinois State (7-15, 4-12).
The Redbirds have encountered struggles similar to the Panthers this season, but have won two of their last three games, recently taking Drake to overtime, and ramping up the effectiveness of Coach Dan Muller's trademark zone defense.
'It's not your traditional 2-3 zone or 3-2 zone that you'll see from teams when they do play some zone,” Jacobson said. 'It's a zone that you don't see or play against very often. Their four guards have been really good in that as well. I think their guys are playing their best basketball.”
The Panthers play the Redbirds at 8 p.m. Friday (ESPNU) and wrap up the series at 5 p.m. Saturday (CBSSN).