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Know Thy Mid-Major: Northern Iowa Panthers

UNI is atop the Missouri Valley Conference, and their long-distance game should scare anyone they draw in the NCAA Tournament

Northern Iowa Panthers guard Trae Berhow celebrates defeating the Colorado Buffaloes at the CU Events Center. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When the brackets for the NCAA Tournament come out on March 15th, a number of unprotected seeds will want to avoid the Northern Iowa Panthers. And that’s because they are one of the best three-point shooting teams in America, with an eFG 56.1% which is 4th in the NCAA this season. As a team they shoot 39.8% from downtown, and that skill should translate to March, and terrify anyone they draw.

Why Northern Iowa

21-3, 10-2 Missouri Valley
NET: 37 RPI: 18
Best wins: @ Colorado (NET 16)
Bad losses: @ Southern Illinois (146), @ Illinois State (202)
Jerry Palm Projection: No. 11 seed

The Players

Sophomore guard AJ Green is the straw that stirs the drink for the Panthers. A deadeye shooter that’s over 40% from three-point range on the season, he’s averaging 20.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest. He’s also seventh in the NCAA in free throw shooting amongst qualified players at 92.1%.

Forward Austin Phyfe is one of the more efficient players in America at 10.7 points and 7.4 rebounds a night, with an eFG of 66.4% for 11th in D-1 college basketball.

The other great shooter is Trae Berhow, who’s a deadly 44.4% from downtown.

The Coach

Ben Jacobson has been at UNI since 2006, with four MVC tournament titles and two regular-season championships. This might be his best team in his 14 years, and the three-time conference coach of the year will continue to get buzz for bigger jobs if the Panthers keep this season going. The Panthers made the Sweet 16 in 2010, and won an NCAA game in both 2015 & ‘16. They’re on pace to do that again.

Where To From Here

There’s not a lot of margin of error for a team with two bad losses in a marginal league like the MVC this season. If UNI runs out their six league games remaining, they’re likely safe no matter what happens in Arch Madness. But one slip-up might force them to win three in a row in St. Louis, and it’s best not to leave it to chance.

But good luck to whatever opponent draws them in the bracket, because if they’re making threes and are at peak efficiency, you might be going home early.