Fact or Fiction: UNI Hoops – Media Day

Throughout the UNI football and men’s basketball seasons The Sportsguy Gary Rima, Cole Bair and J.T. Nutt will offer their insights and analysis in a ‘fact or fiction’ series.

This week’s ‘fact or fiction’ reviews all that was said by the coaches and players at UNI men’s basketball media day.

FACT OR FICTION: After Ben Jacobson’s Panthers gave up a career worst mark of 69.3 points per game in 2013-14 UNI will rebound in 2014-15 and finish the season as a top-3 defense in the MVC…

The Sportsguy: FACT 

One of the staples of Coach Jacobson’s UNI teams is defense. He made it perfectly clear at his media press conference that there would be a renewed focus on DEFENSE and REBOUNDING this year for Panther basketball. A year ago Coach Jake admitted he let the new way the game was supposed to be called at the defensive end and the new  “interpretation” or “implementation” of the block/charge call changed how he approached the defensive end of the floor.

courtesy UNI Athletics Media Relations

courtesy UNI Athletics Media Relations

UNI basketball and that block/charge are both going back to their old ways and that is a great thing for UNI basketball! This Panther team has tons of offensive weapons and with a return to the hard nosed, take a charge, defensive approach it should mean more “W’s” for UNI basketball this season.

Cole Bair: FACT

If ‘OPR Nation’ could have been in the room when head coach Ben Jacobson brought up defense and rebounding at media day for the 3,789,949th time in his career I honestly think they would have felt the seriousness in Coach Jake’s tone.

Last season when coach Jacobson mentioned rebounding and defense the fans and media weren’t paying much attention given how many points the Panthers were giving up and scoring per game. At media day this year it was made painfully obvious where the focus has been in practice and that deviating away from that focus in last season’s practices was a admitted mistake by the Panthers head coach.

I look for coach Jacobson and his staff to produce an obvious better defense in 2014-15. Part of that due to their re-focusing in practices and another part of it due to the personnel coach Jacobson will have at his disposal this season. I hope I’m not on the “kool-aid” too hard but I’m saying fact. I think coach Jacobson and his staff get this year’s Panther team back to where they need to be on the defensive end.

J.T. Nutt: FACT

The one year experiment away from Ben Jacobson’s comfort zone of the run-and-gun will be done.  As Ben Jacobson said on media day; “two things we are going to do at a high level are defend and rebound.”  That is what MUST happen if UNI has a chance to compete in the Valley and beyond.

This team has GOT to get back to the NCAA tournament.  To have Seth Tuttle, as good as he is, not make the NCAA Tournament would be as bad as David Johnson never playing in a playoff game.  Talent, like that doesn’t come often and teams have to take advantage of that.

Look at what happened to Chris Lowery at SIU.  Came in with fanfare, had early success, then the program fell apart.  Ben Jacobson is a far cry from that, but still, he needs to get this team back to the NCAA Tournament.

courtesy UNI Athletics/UNIPanthers.com

courtesy UNI Athletics/UNIPanthers.com

The McLeod Center needs to be full for the games NOT against Wichita State.  The McLeod Center can be one of the loudest in the country and its fans are right on top of you. That atmosphere needs to come back because that atmosphere goes NUTS for a great defensive stop.

Five returning starters. The bench is back from last season AND there are five freshmen that will fight for spot minutes. The redshirts have learned a lot in their year off and they will be ready to make an impact right away.

Not only will UNI be top-3, they will be the number 1 defense in the Valley once again.

FACT OR FICTION: After drawing 29 starts in 31 games, leading the team in assists and steals and averaging 8.3 points per game in his 1st season at UNI after transferring from Tennessee junior point-guard Wes Washpun will start every game at point-guard for the Panthers this season…

The Sportsguy: FICTION  

I think it is fiction for a couple of reasons. I am not sure anyone will start every game this year for UNI. I hope that Seth Tuttle and company all stay healthy but to say they all will with the hard-nosed defense UNI plays I am not sure that will happen. Also, this is a very deep team and if a student-athlete has a few off games or bad practices there just might be someone else who starts in their place to send a “wake up” call to that player.  Plus, Wes could start every game, but it might not be at the point guard spot. Deon Mitchell could be the starting point guard. Wyatt Lohaus could get some playing time and you never know, he could draw a start sometime this year.

Is Wes Washpun good enough to be an every game starter? Absolutely! But this isn’t last years team. It is going to be a fun ride….buckle up and enjoy it!

Cole Bair: FACT (barring injury)

While I might get called out from the Sportsguy for applying a condition to my ‘fact or fiction’ I honestly think that if he stays healthy Wes Washpun is a 30+ game starter in the MVC.

Wes is a special athlete that can provide his team with Jake Koch-esque stat lines from the point-guard position. Think 8-14 points, 5+ rebounds, 5+ assists and a handful of blocks and steals on a game-by-game basis. What college coach wouldn’t love that kind of production out of his point-guard?

photo by Roland Ferrie (UNI & UNI Athletics)

photo by Roland Ferrie (UNI & UNI Athletics)

And I say all this while still holding senior point-guard Deon Mitchell in high regard. Coach Jacobson lauded Deon at media day for being in the best shape of his Panther career and I think he’s legitimately poised to have a great season. And being the sixth or seventh man on this UNI team is not a slight on Deon’s talent. The UNI backcourt is stacked and both Deon and Wes figure to be big parts of that backcourt. But if I’m forced to answer, Wes is the starter. The best part? Coach Jake and his staff being able to play the ‘hot hand’ at the end of games. Whether that’s Wes, Deon, Wyatt or Robert Knar.

J.T. Nutt: FICTION  

EVERY GAME.  No.  This is the Valley.  This is college basketball.  Injuries happen. Slumps happen.

I can not see an ENTIRE season without Deon Mitchell getting a start at point.  Senior night alone, he should get a start.  I think Deon will have a chip on his shoulder this year.  The kid is quiet.  Jake Koch quiet.  Sometimes that is seen as a bad thing, but that’s a Ben Jacobson type player. Deon has shown up in better shape every season and this one is no different.

Wes is a great point guard and will be amazing as a senior.  Remember the jump that Kwadzo made in his final season?  It happens with UNI basketball’s point guards.  Ben Jacobson has almost as many plays as Mark Farley and that takes years to digest.  Deon, who will be in his senior year, will make the jump.  Wes will still be Wes, but there will be less Wes in the starting lineup.  There are too many players and the season is too long to have me believe the guards stay the same for every game.

FACT OR FICTION: UNI men’s basketball will finish no worse than second-place in the Missouri Valley Conference…

The Sportsguy: FACT

This is the year that UNI seriously contends for the MVC title.

This team returns all five starters. Really six because Deon Mitchell isn’t listed as a returning starter and he started 20-plus games last year. This team returns senior Nate Buss who isn’t listed as a returning starter, but plays like one. Then you add Paul Jesperson, the Virginia transfer, and 4 redshirt freshman to the mix, not to mention true freshman Wyatt Lohaus, and this team is deep, long and talented.

courtesy http://clonesconfidential.com/2014/06/11/iowa-state-mens-basketball-big-four-classic-date-announced/

courtesy http://clonesconfidential.com/2014/06/11/iowa-state-mens-basketball-big-four-classic-date-announced/

A top two finish should be achievable for this 2014-15 edition of Panther basketball. And I think it happens. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Cole Bair: FACT

The last few seasons of UNI men’s basketball have been somewhat marred by not reaching quality post season tournaments. The NIT or the NCAA tournaments. However, during those past few years the Panthers have remained near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference and with Cleanthony Early gone at Wichita State, Jake Odum FINALLY gone from Indy State and the Panthers boasting an absolutely loaded roster of returners and new-comers I can’t help but not say fact. Add in that the Panthers defense and rebounding should be much better and I do not presently see a team outside of Wichita State with more potential in the MVC. Let’s just hope that in 2014-15 the Panthers are able to realize all that potential.

J.T. Nutt: FACT (hesitantly)

I hope they finish 2nd, I think they SHOULD finish second, but I just fear they could finish 3rd.  Nothing more than a gut instinct.  The Valley always has that one surprise team that makes a run.  The Drake Bulldogs did it all the way to the ‘Big Dance’ only to suffer a heartbreaking loss.  Who does it this year?  I don’t know.

I DO know that I really like Greg Lansing, the Indiana State Sycamores head coach.  I like Paul Lusk at Missouri State. I love Geno Ford and pity the fact he has to live in Peoria.  Loyola was supposed to be a doormat last year and did finish dead freaking last but were a tough out in nearly all of their games.

courtesy http://bigstory.ap.org/article/no-17-iowa-state-rallies-past-uni-91-82-ot

courtesy http://bigstory.ap.org/article/no-17-iowa-state-rallies-past-uni-91-82-ot

But, maybe the best coach the Valley has ever had to never have his chance in the big dance, Barry FREAKING Hinson at Southern Illinois.  The man can flat out coach.  He’s the best post game press conference in America.  And he’s been in Carbondale long enough to get his players to play his game.

That being said.  I think the Valley goes.  Wichita State – UNI – SIU – Missouri State – Bradley – Indy State – Evansville – Drake – Loyola – Illinois State.   In that order.

UNI should easily walk away with second place and perhaps even contend with Wichita State for the conference title.  The Panthers have the depth.  They have the senior leaders.  They have the best big guy in the league in Seth Tuttle.  And they have the coaching.  Still, they have to get it done on the court.

Last year left a sour taste in a lot of mouths in Panther Nation.

There are plenty of moving pieces and hopefully those pieces mold together quickly – or it will be another long year – with another bitter end.

A bye in Arch Madness should be a realistic and achievable goal for the Panthers.

  • Give us your thoughts ‘OPR Nation!’ Fact? Or Fiction?