The most recent performance from the University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball team is concerning.
It was a 73-59 loss at No. 21 UNLV and the Panthers faced a double-digit margin for a solid 34 minutes. The Runnin’ Rebels knew the blueprint to beat UNI and did exactly what they wanted from the opening tip with little resistance.
The unfortunate overall takeaway is that the Panthers’ season now comes down to March 7-10 in St. Louis. Sure, they can have a nice season and, if things really fall into place, can make a run at a top finish in the Missouri Valley Conference.
But that means their goals have most certainly changed. With the roster that was in place and the schedule that was laid out, the goal was the NCAA Tournament. It’s Dec. 20 and the entire reason this season was set up the way it was is now a waste.
The NCAA Tournament wants to have teams that can beat other NCAA Tournament teams. Whenever UNI has been faced with that challenge — three or four times now — the result has been a loss. It's 0-3 against BCS conference level competition.
Maybe it’s a good thing. We should no longer be preoccupied with labeling games as “must wins” or refreshing the RPI rankings.
The overarching concern now is that this UNI basketball team simply isn’t as good as we all thought or hoped. The talent disparity has been painfully apparent at times, and that’s not a quick fix. Sure, they’ve played some top quality teams, but those are the teams the Panthers should be keeping in stride with when we took account of the roster before the season.
Head coach Ben Jacobson maintains that he has seen flashes from his team. There were good stretches against Louisville, Memphis and even Wednesday against UNLV. Those stretches just haven’t been sustained for nearly long enough.
“We showed some improvement with some of the things we were doing against Memphis. We’re certainly capable of playing well against a team like this. We just didn’t play well enough (Wednesday),” Jacobson said after the loss at UNLV. “When you play against these teams, you have to do things well and you have to do things well for a long time. We’re capable of doing that. We’ve showed that at George Mason and in the one possession games against Louisville and Memphis.”
The burden of proof continues to be on the Panthers. The good news is that the remaining schedule doesn’t include the Lousiville and UNLV’s of the world. The bad news is, because of that, UNI has officially missed its opportunity.