#49 Northern Iowa: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #49
Conference Rank: #2 Missouri Valley Conference
2009-10: 30-5, 15-3
2009-10 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Ben Jacobson (89-43 at Northern Iowa, 89-43 overall)
Northern Iowa may have messed up everybody’s NCAA Tournament bracket by beating Kansas in the second round of the big dance, but Coach Ben Jacobson knew he had a good team who was capable of beating anybody in the nation. The Panthers may take a step back this year, but not as big of one as many think and by March this will be a dangerous team yet again.
Key Losses: C Jordan Eglseder, G Ali Farokhmanesh, F Adam Koch
The returning six or seven players should see a vast majority of the playing time, but Coach Jacobson has to find some more depth among his eight newcomers. Tyler Lange, a 6-6 redshirt freshman can play either forward spot and fellow forward Chip Rank is a tough player who can battle on the glass. Nate Buss, a 6-8 forward, needs to add some girth, but he is a solid inside-outside threat. James Humpal and Max Martino will try to find some minutes on the wings and Jarod Syndergaard and redshirt freshmen Matt Morrison and B.J. Ray need to add some depth to the perimeter.
Despite the absence of Ali Farokhmanesh, the backcourt has plenty of weapons. Point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe was the leader of this team last year and will be again during his senior campaign. While most of his teammates garnered all of the attention, Ahelegbe dished out 2.8 assists per game and was the best overall scorer in the backcourt with 10.6 points per game. Ahelegbe is also a superb defender, but he has to keep the turnovers down if the Panthers want to make another Sweet Sixteen run. Johnny Moran was a starter last year, but he suffered through a sophomore slump. Some of that was due to lingering injuries, but he never really got his game going. Moran has to turn into the outside shooter on this team now that Farokhmanesh is gone. Kerwin Dunham is a fine defender, but he needs to step into a starting role and find a way to use his size and attack the basket from the wing and score more than 3.5 points per game. Marc Sonnen had a decent freshman campaign and should turn into a fine three-point shooter off the bench if he can hold off the newcomers.
Replacing a seven-footer who led the team in points, rebounds and blocks…and the Missouri Valley’s Player of the Year sounds like a daunting task. Nobody will be the next Jordan Eglseder or Adam Koch right away, but this team has a couple players who were down the depth chart who are ready to step up their game. Who better to replace Adam Koch than his little brother Jake Koch? By the end of his freshman year, the younger Koch was turning into a solid contributor. He lacks the experience of his older brother, but at 6-9 and 255 pounds, he is the big body this team needs. The other starting spot up front should go to two-time Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year, Lucas O’Rear. The 6-6, 260 pound forward may not put up great numbers, but he is tough as old boots and will always hit the glass hard.
Who to Watch:
The lack of depth, and to a lesser extent size, in the paint will be an issue. Obviously this team is going to be smaller after losing Eglseder, but Austin Pehl could be the next big man who steps into a bigger role. He still needs to add some weight to his 6-10 frame, but Pehl could see some action and at least grab some boards and block some shots. If he is not ready to contribute, the newcomers better be or this team will be really small and thin up front.
Coach Jacobson went nine deep last year with only one player averaging over 30 minutes per game. That depth allowed UNI to do what they do best…play great defense and stop the opposition from getting any easy buckets. With Ahelegbe and Moran leading the way, this team should be able to score enough, but they need to find the depth to play the type of defense Northern Iowa needs to play to win games.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Senior, Guard, 10.6 ppg
Johnny Moran, Junior, Guard, 5.5 ppg
Kerwin Dunham, Senior, Guard, 3.5 ppg
Lucas O’Rear, Senior, Forward, 4.1 ppg
Jake Koch, Sophomore, Forward, 3.5 ppg
Next Top 144 Teams