#134 Northern Iowa Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview

Northern Iowa Panthers
2017-2018 Overall Rank: #134
Conference Rank: #3 Missouri Valley
The Missouri Valley was a two team race last year and Northern Iowa finished tied for a distant third with a 9-8 record. The Panthers had their moments, but the offense was painful to watch at times and now their best two players are gone. It will be a tough year for the MVC as Wichita State split for the AAC, but that leaves room for a large group of average teams to clamor for the conference title. For UNI, they are going to have some very tough stretches, especially early during a tough non-conference schedule. But those tough stretches could prepare them for the conference tournament.
2016-17 Record: 14-16, 9-8
2016-17 Postseason: None
Coach: Ben Jacobson
Coach Record: 234-134 at Northern Iowa, 234-134 overall
Who’s Out:
Guards Jeremy Morgan and Jordan Ashton were often the only players who could get the offense moving. Morgan led the team with 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks. Not often does any player lead a team in all of those categories. He also connected on a team high 60 three-pointers and it may take a little time for this group to learn how to play without Morgan. Ashton averaged 8.5 points per game and was by far the most consistent outside shooter on the team. He connected on 43.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and at times that was the best way the Panthers could get a few points on the board.
Who’s In:
Coach Ben Jacobson has five total newcomers who all have the potential to make an impact this year. Austin Phyfe and Tywhon Pickford are the lone incoming freshmen. Phyfe, a 6-9 forward, has potential but there should not be much playing time available right now. But if there is, Phyfe should be ready to at least provide some help on the glass. Pickford was a huge pickup for UNI. The 6-3 guard will add some much needed depth on the wing and he can shoot the ball. Redshirt freshman Tanner Lohaus, the younger brother of guard Wyatt Lohaus, could see some quality minutes this year too. He may need some more time before he becomes an impact player, but he has talent. Miles Wentzien has kept a tradition alive by earning junior college All-American honors while playing at Kirkwood College and then joining the Northern Iowa program. Jordan Ashton was the latest to do so. Wentzien is a great shooter from everywhere on the floor and should at least provide a nice offensive spark, although it is likely he will redshirt this year. Speaking of shooters, Adam McDermott has already proven that he can shoot the ball. As a freshman at North Dakota during the 2015-2016 campaign, he knocked down eight long balls in a game against Idaho State. It is rare for a Northern Iowa team to have questions when it comes to shooting the ball, but McDermott will help answer those questions.
Who to Watch:
Despite the disappointing 2015-2016 campaign, UNI has some talent returning. Bennett Koch, a 6-10 senior, averaged 11.0 points and 3.8 rebounds. He continues to improve and he should be ready to turn into a solid leader in the paint. Klint Carlson had a somewhat disappointing junior campaign. He did manage to average 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists, but Carlson struggled with his outside shot. If he can start shooting the ball more like he did as a freshman, the 6-7 senior will be in for a big year. The backcourt has options too. Isaiah Brown, a 6-5 wing, only averaged 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds as a freshman, but he has the potential to take a big step up this year. Spencer Haldeman was one of the few freshmen last season that came close to reaching their lofty expectations. He slowed down at the end of the 2016-2017 campaign, but he averaged 7.6 points per game and proved that he could knock down big shots. Wyatt Lohaus started four games and appeared in six before an ankle injury ended his junior season early. He has experience and can knock down three-pointers and handle the ball, but it is not likely he will emerge as a consistent double digit scoring threat. There may not be a more important player on the team this year than Juwan McCloud. The sophomore point guard was thrown into a starting position as a freshman and averaged 3.7 points, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals. McCloud is a very good defender, but he must be more consistent shooting the ball and attacking the basket in order to open up space for all of the shooters. Northern Iowa shot just 32.6 percent as a team from beyond the arc, but that was not just because of the shooters. It is McCloud that must open up space for players like Lohaus, Carlson and McDermott to knock down shots.
Final Projection:
As the MVC looks for a new identity, Northern Iowa should start to reclaim theirs. There are shooters, there are big guys who can shoot and one big guy who can score consistently in the paint. There is also depth with players like Luke McDonnell, Hunter Rhodes and Ted Friedman who can fill a role if needed. If the sophomores can make that traditional jump in production between their freshmen and sophomore seasons, Northern Iowa will battle for the top spot in the MVC. But this year the top spot in the conference will not be nearly enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. It will all come down to a few days in Saint Louis.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Juwan McCloud, Sophomore, Guard, 3.7 points per game
Wyatt Lohaus, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Isaiah Brown, Sophomore, Guard, 1.8 points per game
Klint Carlson, Senior, Forward, 8.3 points per game
Bennett Koch, Senior, Forward, 11.0 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 61.8 (339th in nation, 10th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 64.4 (26, 3)
Field-Goal Percentage: 39.9 (334, 10)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.9 (130, 6)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.6 (149, 7)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.6 (284, 9)
Free-Throw Percentage: 73.3 (80, 3)
Rebound Margin: -7.3 (338, 10)
Assists Per Game: 9.9 (343, 10)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.4 (41, 2)