CEDAR FALLS - Northern Iowa's basketball team has been built to withstand an occasional bump in the road.
And head coach Ben Jacobson expects that shock absorber to keep his Panthers between the white lines as UNI tries to steer through a stretch without 7-foot senior center Jordan Eglseder, who was suspended Sunday for three games following his arrest for drunk driving.
It's all about the depth that has served the Panthers (22-3 overall, 13-2 Missouri Valley Conference) so well during their ascent to the top of the league standings and into the national Top 25.
Junior Lucas O'Rear, who has filled UNI's sixth-man role with vigor the past two seasons, will move into the starting lineup tonight, while Eglseder's absence could also mean more minutes for players like Kerwin Dunham, Jake Koch, Adam Rodenberg and Austin Pehl, although he has been hampered by a sprained thumb.
Jacobson has no concern that changing O'Rear's role will affect his energy or productivity, or UNI's chemistry. He pointed to a similar situation two weeks ago when Kerwin Dunham stepped in for injured starting guard Johnny Moran.
"I think when you've got experienced guys like Kerwin and like Luke, those guys can play well whether they start the basketball game or they come off the bench, so I don't anticipate that will change the way Luke has played for us," Jacobson noted.
"Obviously, now everybody has to do just a little bit more. We talked about that when Johnny was out. It's important in a situation where you're missing one of your guys on game night that you don't have guys who try to do a lot more.
"We've got a very deep team. We've got a very experienced team. We've got a very balanced team ... The key is that the guys just do a little bit more."
Jacobson is confident his players will embrace the challenge.
"I think the fact that we do have an experienced team, these guys will handle it the right way," he said. "And the fact that we've got some depth ... We've got a guy like Adam Rodenberg who last year was playing 6 to 12 minutes a night, depending on what we needed. He played very well down the stretch last year and he played very well down in St. Louis.
"This year he's found himself behind a couple of guys. What I've really liked with Adam is he has practiced so hard. He's in great shape. He's practicing great. He wants to play, but he's a team guy and he understands he's got some guys ahead of him. Now he's got an opportunity where our team's going to need him, and he's ready for that."
In other words, Jacobson expects it to be business as usual when his Panthers take the court tonight, although there will be some offensive adjustments to fit whatever personnal is on the floor.
"Somebody else is going to start the game and some guys off that bench are going to play some more minutes," he said. "We expect to just continue to get better and continue to play well, and I think we can do that because these guys are experienced and we've been through this."
UNI needs just one more MVC victory to secure its first outright league championship. The Panthers' next opportunity to get that done comes tonight when Creighton visits the McLeod Center for a 7:05 p.m. tipoff.
As for Eglseder, Jacobson said he supports the three-game suspension as outlined in UNI's student-athlete code of conduct (10 percent of the team's games). Eglseder is allowed to practice during the suspension. Meanwhile, any additional disciplinary action is up to Jacobson, and he said that will be handled behind closed doors.
What's most important now is that his standout post player from Bellevue learns from his mistake.
"His job now is to make good decisions going forward and to see if he can use this at some point down the road," Jacobson noted. "There's going to be another time for Jordan when he's frustrated with how he's maybe playing personally or how things are going for him personally. He needs to be able to really grow and mature from this situation and have it be something he can look back on and help him down the road at some point.
"I'm disappointed in what has happened. I'm disappointed in Jordan," said Jacobson. "At the same time, he has my full support and the full support of his teammates. Those are things he has earned over the course of time. We look forward to helping Jordan get through this. We look forward to moving on as a basketball team."