CEDAR FALLS — Considering the marquee teams Northern Iowa has faced so far this season, a school like Texas-Arlington doesn’t exactly pop off the schedule.
Just eight games in, the Panthers have already played North Carolina, North Carolina State, Villanova and UNLV, programs that have won a combined 11 national championships — including the last two — and reached 32 Final Fours.
By comparison, UT-Arlington has made the NCAA Tournament just once, as a 16-seed in 2008.
But what they lack in brand recognition, the Mavericks of 2017-18 more than make up for in talent, and they bring an experienced and dangerous team to the McLeod Center Thursday. Fresh off a 27-win season, UT-A returns a lot of firepower from a squad that captured a Sun Belt regular-season title a year ago.
The most noteworthy returning piece is senior Kevin Hervey, who is putting himself in great position to win a second consecutive Sun Belt Player of the Year Award.(tncms-asset)d1c8e2e7-184e-5ce9-9ff3-152b7b3c75c6(/tncms-asset)
Hervey entered Monday ninth in the country in scoring at 23.4 points per game. The 6-foot-9 forward is also pulling down 8.4 rebounds and shooting just under 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Hervey has received plenty of assistance in the paint from Johnny Hamilton, a 7-foot graduate transfer from Virginia Tech who is averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Making the offense run smoothly is fellow senior Erick Neal. The nation’s top distributor, Neal’s 10.3 assists per game are 1.4 more than any other player in the country. He’s also proven to be an efficient scorer, chipping in 13.6 points per contest.
That trio has led UT-Arlington to a 7-1 start, its lone blemish a 77-76 road loss to an Alabama team that’s spent two weeks in the Top 25.
Though they haven’t cracked the rankings themselves, the Mavericks clearly have the respect of the nation’s voters. They earned three votes in this week’s Associated Press poll, while nabbing 15 in the coaches’ poll.
One coach who views UT-A as top-25 worthy is Panther head man Ben Jacobson, who says he cast a vote in the Mavericks’ favor this week and knows his team will have to be sharp if it hopes to earn another quality win Thursday.
“They’ve got a terrific team for a lot of reasons,” Jacobson said. “They have got tremendous players, (they’re) very well-coached and (have) a ton of experience. They’ve got a really, really nice team. They’ve got ... everything you need to be a really good basketball team.”(tncms-asset)e7f4f58e-eeb2-5e1e-91cd-2e8bedafd602(/tncms-asset)
LOHAUS SET TO RETURN: After nearly a year of inactivity, Wyatt Lohaus finally looks primed to return to the court.
Yet to play this season because of a toe injury, the redshirt junior was a full practice participant for the first time on Friday and Saturday. And according to Jacobson, his return came with no noticeable limitations, putting him in line to play Thursday.
“He didn’t have anything coming out of Saturday’s practice that would indicate (he can’t play),” Jacobson said. “As long as he practices the way he was able to Friday and Saturday, there won’t be any limits unless I get one from our trainer, or from Wyatt.”
Though he’s likely to see plenty of action as an off-the-ball guard, Lohaus will, at least initially, be coming off the bench. As of now, Jacobson says he will stick with the lineup of Klint Carlson, Tywhon Pickford, Juwan McCloud, Isaiah Brown and Bennett Koch, who’ve started all eight games this season.
CARLSON STAYING AGGRESSIVE: Following a long-awaited offensive breakout, Jacobson expects bigger things from Carlson going forward.
After cracking double figures just once in the first seven games, Carlson netted a career-best 23 in last Wednesday’s 77-68 overtime win over UNLV. He spent most of his night attacking the basket, taking 21 of his 22 field goal attempts from inside the arc.
Though not ecstatic about the high shot volume, Carlson was mostly happy with the results.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and make plays,” he said “The most important thing was we came out with the win. If I would have taken 22 shots and we didn’t win, that wouldn’t have been good.”
The aggressive approach was more pleasing to Jacobson, who believes it can provide a new dimension to his offense.
“I think (the UNLV game has) really got a chance to propel Klint forward,” Jacobson said. “I think he’ll continue to play with a little more aggressiveness at the offensive end and that’s going to get him really close to what this team needs.”
MVC HONORS KOCH: UNI center Koch has been named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Player of the Week, following a career-best performance against UNLV.
The fifth-year senior scored a career-high 30 points while adding seven rebounds and three steals in the 77-68 Panther win. Through eight games, Koch is fifth in the Valley in scoring, averaging 17.0 points per game.