CEDAR FALLS - Northern Iowa's last men's basketball victory of the 2009-10 season - a pulse-pounding triumph over top-ranked Kansas - served as quite a springboard into the offseason.
"It was hard to put into words how much fun I had," head coach Ben Jacobson said last week. "It was hectic and it was crazy - just about every emotion you can think of."
And that Kansas win could pay dividends in the near future on the recruiting trail.
"Everybody - EVERYBODY - saw that (Kansas) game," noted Jacobson, whose program still has one scholarship available for this spring. "So there's kids that we have been recruiting that are extremely excited about what happened in that basketball game, and because of that their interest in our place has heightened.
"And there's some players that we haven't been recruiting that watched us play in the NCAA Tournament and watched us beat Kansas that have contacted us. So we think there will definitely be some benefits going forward, because of the run that we made."
Although Jacobson's squad will graduate 53.2 percent of its scoring from last season, UNI could be a bit more of a run-and-gun outfit in 2010-11 with multiple guards able to man the point-guard position in transition.
"We've got seven to 10 guys back that played," said Jacobson. "So I don't know that their goals are going to change much.
"I think they'll have some high expectations for themselves."
Of course, it's still roughly six months before the Panthers' first practice of 2010-11, and a few questions need to be answered before then. Jacobson touched on several of those issues:
- UNI will play in the Las Vegas Classic next December, the week before Christmas. The Panthers will begin the tournament with two home games against opponents yet to be determined.
Jacobson's squad will then play two games in Las Vegas - and those two games could give UNI's RPI ranking a significant boost. The Panthers will play two of the following three schools in Las Vegas: New Mexico, Indiana or Colorado.
New Mexico matched UNI's 30-5 record last winter and holds the obvious intrigue of being led by former University of Iowa coach Steve Alford. Colorado and Indiana, although rebuilding, reside in conferences that ranked among the top five in RPI last season, in the Big 12 and Big Ten, respectively.
- Jacobson said there's no timetable for power forward Lucas O'Rear to announce whether he'll return to play basketball next season or opt to play pro baseball starting this summer. O'Rear is a talented pitcher whose fastball tops out at around 93 mph.
"There's some things he'll do this spring and early summer where he'll throw for a couple (pro baseball) teams and be seen," Jacobson said. "I think that's important, to keep his name in the mix - because he's got the talent to make it at some point.
"But I know Luke wants to get his degree. He wants to continue to be part of this program."
- UNI will again play a home game in the ESPN-sponsored BracketBuster event next season. Matchups and dates for the BracketBuster games will be announced next winter.
- Jacobson said the majority of his squad will again play in the Prime Time League this summer in North Liberty, including incoming freshmen. The only holdouts will be Minnesota native Kwadzo Ahelegbe (family) and perhaps an injured player or two.
- Reserve guard B.J. Ray's return to the Panther basketball squad is dependent on football. Ray, a talented receiver on the gridiron, may opt to spend next winter training for football.
Jacobson also evaluated the roster he will take into the 2010-11 season, as well as the newcomers who will be joining the program.
- Kwadzo Ahelegbe, 6-2, 200 lbs.
2009-10 recap: Ahelegbe was inconsistent at times and ended the season with 104 turnovers to 97 assists. But he also finished strong, scoring 24 points against Wichita State on March 7 to sew up Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Most Outstanding Player accolades.
Coach Jake's take: "Kwadzo, he's been right in the middle - and in a lot of cases out in front - in terms of his leadership. So I really like where he's at.
"Things he needs to continue to work at? His ball-handling, his ability to make plays for himself and his teammates ... and then continue to work on consistency with his jump shot."
- Lucas O'Rear, 6-6, 255
2009-10 recap: If O'Rear returns - and the June Major League Baseball draft will have a big say in that - he will assume sole possession of UNI's fan-favorite role. Here's the key question: Can the two-time MVC sixth man of the year score significantly more than the 4.1 points per game he averaged last winter in nearly 19 minutes per game?
Jake's take: "With the graduation of the three inside guys, my initial feeling is he's going to be counted on to play more minutes. He's very different, of course, than Adam (Koch) and Jordan (Eglseder) in terms of the way he would score. But he's been productive for us."
- Kerwin Dunham, 6-6, 200
2009-10 recap: Dunham, who scored 2,205 career points as a prep at Bondurant-Farrar, may possess the most feathery shooting touch on UNI's team. A 14-point performance in a Jan. 24 win at Indiana State showed what Dunham could do on offense, though he was largely hesitant to shoot otherwise. His solid defense, however, was always on display. Jake's take: "We're graduating three double-figure scorers; somewhere within our new team that's obviously gonna have to be made up for. Kerwin has the ability to score. ... If that means that next year he has to average 12 or 13 points, he'll be ready to do that. If his role is different than that and we win basketball games, then he'll be willing and ready to do that as well."
- Johnny Moran, 6-1, 190
2009-10 recap: An early-season shooting slump, plus injuries to his ribs and ankle, caused Moran's scoring average to dip by nearly three points per game in his sophomore campaign, down to 5.5 per night. However, he showed his shooting stroke can still be deadly in a Feb. 16 win over Creighton, scoring a team-high 17 points.
Jake's take: "Johnny, he had just started to shoot it consistently and he was playing better, and then those two injuries really slowed him down. ... That's one of the keys for Johnny: this spring and summer we've got to work hard to make sure that he's healthy and has put himself in a position where he can be healthy for an entire season."
- Marc Sonnen, 6-3, 185
2009-10 recap: Sonnen, who played in every game over the winter, showed enough flashes - like a seven 3-pointer game at North Dakota in December - to suggest he could be a stellar combo guard. He has a quick release and ample confidence. He could be called upon to provide instant offense at times in 2010-11.
Jake's take: "That was a pretty good freshman year. Very solid. ... His ability and size, offensively, are really going to be able to help us. And I really just like his competitiveness."
- Jake Koch, 6-9, 245
2009-10 recap: Playing in all 35 games, Koch averaged 3.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. But he also shot 40 percent from 3-point range and picked his spots well. On Feb. 23 in Evansville, for instance, he rang up game-highs in points (22) and rebounds (10). Jake's take: "He got better as the year went along. Obviously, he became a real offensive force for us coming off the bench. ... We've got to find ways to slide him in there on the block and be able to get him touches, because he's got a good feel. He's going to have to be versatile for us."
- Anthony James, 6-0, 175
2009-10 recap: James averaged just 5.9 minutes per game this season and didn't have a single assist but finished strong, especially in the Valley tournament where he produced eight points versus Bradley. The St. Louis native's future, according to Jacobson, is as an off-guard.
Jake's take: "Because AJ worked so hard in practice - even during the times where he wasn't playing as much - he was prepared for those (late-season) opportunities and he really helped our team. For him to just continue to ride that momentum into his offseason workouts (is key). He has got to get stronger. He needs to continue to work on his ball-handling."
- Austin Pehl, 6-10, 245
2009-10 recap: The Cedar Falls High School grad saw limited action in six games. Tough practice sessions against UNI's veteran big men left him with a hand injury for a prolonged stretch, as well.
Jake's take: "From January on, he was in the gym four or five days a week for 35-45 minutes, outside of practice, working on his game. ... Sometimes when guys aren't playing minutes they're not going to get in there extra. What that tells me is Austin really wants to be a better basketball player. Austin's key is his commitment to workouts. How strong can he get?"
- Redshirt freshmen
Matt Morrison, 6-0, 175
2009-10 recap: Morrison, a Solon native, has the look of an overachiever who isn't overwhelmed by the intracacies of a UNI offense heavy on set plays. He also has a fairly smooth shooting stroke and has shown the ability to hit the occasional runner in the lane during practices.
Jake's take: "He's good in the open floor. He's a little bit quicker than I thought he was. And he's able to turn the corner. ... The thing that he did a little better than I (originally) thought was he made 3-point shots. Now, his ball-handling has got to get better."
Tyler Lange, 6-6, 210
2009-10 recap: Lange displayed decent versatility during this winter's practices, playing some small forward and a bit at the power forward spot. ... He also was pounded on fairly frequently by the likes of Lucas O'Rear - an indication that Lange still needs to get stronger to handle the rigors of the MVC.
Jake's take: "Tyler, his versatility is good for our program. He's just a relentless worker and highly competitive, and because of that he's going to continue to get better. There's a lot to like about him, and it starts with his attitude."
- Incoming freshmen
Doug McDermott, 6-7, 195
2009-10 recap: McDermott, whom Jacobson has known since he was an infant, took serious strides this season, helping lead Ames to another state title. The versatility McDermott displayed as a prep senior (averaging 20.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting 50.9 percent on 3-pointers) leads Jacobson to believe the big man could evolve into a small forward before his days are done at UNI.
Jake's take: "I really like his length. He's a very good offensive rebounder. He shot close to 70 percent from the field for the year - numbers you just don't see.
"In the weight room, he's got a lot of catching up to do. He's got that body like Adam Koch had when he got here - just kind of long and thin."
Chip Rank, 6-6, 210
2009-10 recap: The Cedarburg, Wis., native, who chose UNI over Miami of Ohio and Green Bay, became a prized recruit due to his relentless nature, toughness and stellar anticipation. UNI's coaching staff likes the way Rank's shooting ability can create spacing on the floor and envisions him as an undersized power forward.
Jake's take: "Chip, he really shoots the basketball well. He brings it defensively - he's a very good defensive rebounder. ... He's a combination of toughness and just a hard-nosed mentality. I think he's a guy that Luke (O'Rear) is really gonna like."
Nathan Buss, 6-8, 190
2009-10 recap: If he never does another thing on a basketball court, Buss can always say he led the state in scoring during phenom Harrison Barnes' senior year - no small feat. Of course, the 27.2 points per game Buss averaged (along with his 10.7 rebounds per night) suggest he has a bright basketball future. He needs to bulk up first, however.
Jake's take: "Nate had a great year. ... He can shoot it from a good step, step-and-a-half from behind the 3-point line. He's got a very good feel on the block. He's got very good feet defensively. He's a guy that we may redshirt, and I've talked to Nate about that."