Northern Iowa Basketball Preview: #59
Overall Rank: #59
Conference Rank: #2 Missouri Valley Conference
2008-09: 23-11, 14-4
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Ben Jacobson (59-38 at Northern Iowa, 59-38 overall)
Most did not expect too much from Northern Iowa heading into the 2008-2009 season. The team was relatively young and inexperienced and there were so many other dangerous teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Panthers proved everybody wrong and won the conference and gave Purdue a run for their money in the NCAA Tournament.
Key Losses: G Travis Brown
Coach Ben Jacobson only lost one key player from last year’s team, but there are seven new players who could suit up for the Panthers this season. Guard Anthony James and big men Jake Koch and Austin Pehl redshirted last year and will look for minutes off the bench this year. Tyler Lange, Matt Morrison and Marc Sonnen are the incoming freshmen. Sonnen, a 6-3 guard, can handle the ball and score off the wing. Of all the freshmen, he is the one who has the best shot of replacing Travis Brown’s minutes. But the better option may be junior college transfer Antonio Jones.
The backcourt will not miss Brown too much. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Ali Farokhmanesh, Johnny Moran and Kerwin Dunham should do just fine. Ahelegbe emerged as a fine point guard last year and an even better scorer. His outside shot is not that great, but it is good enough to keep the opposition honest and Ahelegbe will do most of his damage getting to the basket. Farokhmanesh is the shooter on the team and knocked down 2.2 long balls per contest last season. Moran is a pretty good shooter as well, but it is his ability to hit the glass that allows UNI to start three players who are 6-2 and under.
Having a small group on the perimeter is also acceptable because the frontcourt is huge. Adam Koch is 6-9 and 245 pounds and is not afraid to mix it up with anybody under the basket. He is a very dynamic scorer who will finish in the paint and stretch out the defense with his outside shooting ability. At 7-1, Jordan Eglseder is even taller. He is not the consistent scorer that Koch is, although he has made huge strides in that department lately, but he is a fine shot blocker and just his presence under the basket is intimidating to most opponents. The size of players like Dunham, who is 6-6, gives the team some versatility when Koch or Eglseder need a break, but the newcomers could fill in part of that role as well this year.
Who to Watch:
Lucas O’Rear is also an option to play power forward when the big guys need a rest or run into foul trouble. The 6-6 forward earned the Missouri Valley Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year Award last season after averaging 5.2 points and 5.5 rebounds. O’Rear is a tough player around the basket and he probably will be again this season. Koch and Eglseder are going to be in the game as long as they can, but O’Rear will fill in for them very well and should be even better now that he is an upperclassman.
On paper there is no reason for Northern Iowa not to win the MVC again. However, in the end it will most likely come down to the conference tournament to decide who is going to go to the NCAA Tournament. The MVC is a strong conference, but it will not be like years past when there will be a couple teams looking for an automatic berth. But if UNI picks up where they left off at the end of last year, they could be looking at another trip to the big dance.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Junior, Guard, 11.8 points per game
Ali Farokmanesh, Seniro, Guard, 9.6 points per game
Johnny Moran, Sophomore, Guard, 8.4 points per game
Adam Koch, Senior, Forward, 12.1 points per game
Jordan Eglseder, Senior, Center, 10.2 points per game
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