Ranking UNI Basketball 111th in the Country is a Joke
Matt Norlander of CBS Sports recently put together a series of articles ranking each and every NCAA DI basketball team in the country. All 358 of them. He put the Panthers as the 111th best team in the country.
I'll start with this -- last time home-town hero and ESPN 4-Star recruit turned Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year, AJ Green, was fully-healthy, we saw one of the greatest basketball teams in UNI history.
Ranked in or near the top 25 for a majority of the 2019-2020 season, The Panthers blew through their conference competition, beat Colorado in Boulder when the Buffs were considered a top 25 team, and posted a 16-0 record at home. They finished with a 25-6 record.
While Green, Tywhon Pickford, Trae Berhow, Antwan Kimmons, Noah Carter, and Austin Phyfe are the lone members still around from that squad, every one of them played significant minutes two years ago. Pickford, Berhow, Carter, and Phyfe played much of this previous season as well. Green was unable to play due to a hip injury, and Kimmons left the team for personal reasons. The team finished with a 10-15 record.
Last season was more-or-less a developmental year for the younger UNI players, as freshman Bowen Born, Nate Heise, and Cole Henry earned significant minutes and got their first action as Division I basketball players. Transfer from George Mason University, Goanar Mar, and sophomore James Betz logged important time as well.
Let's be clear -- the MVC is an incredibly talented mid-major conference nearly every year. Loyola-Chicago has been atop the regular season standings recently, Drake had a phenomenal 2020, and (God only knows how) Bradley has won the two previous conference tournaments.
The Ramblers are put in the 28th spot and Drake is 72nd in this article. Loyola-Chicago lost their head coach in Porter Moser (now with Oklahoma) and Cameron Krutwig, who is the reigning MVC Player of the Year. They're a good basketball team, but those are massive, massive losses. Drake may be placed correctly, as they're bringing back two big players -- Roman Penn and Tank Hemphill. Their head coach Darian Devries was also able to bring on his son, Tucker Devries, who was the No. 1 high school basketball player in Iowa last year.
Here's the thing about the UNI men's basketball program -- head coach Ben Jacobson has been around the block a few times. He's won multiple regular season and conference tournament championships, been to several NCAA tournaments, made it to the Sweet 16, and has lost heartbreakers. Coach Jake knows how to win, and he's established himself as one of the best if not the best coach in the MVC.
He's also had a lot of talent in his tenure with the Panthers, but he's never had a player to the caliber of Green. To quote a friend of mine who walked-on to the UNI men's basketball team when Green was a freshman, "If (Green) stays healthy, he's going to the NBA."
Another friend of mine in media who evaluates potential NBA talent for basketballnew.com (and used to be an NBA agent) featured the Cedar Falls native in an NBA mock draft of his -- Green was slated to be selected in the second round.
UNI has never had a player taken in the NBA Draft in program history.
When I most recently spoke with AJ he told me that "Both hips are good to go." I've also been told he's at 100% healthy.
In his last full season with the Panthers, Green posted 19.7 points while shooting 41.6% from three and 91.7% from the free throw line. He's an incredibly efficient scorer, and now, he's a got an extra year of film, his health, and working out at the NBA combine under his belt.
While Green is awesome, this is a whole team effort, too.
Carter, Born, Phyfe, and Berhow each averaged more than 11 points a game last season. Phyfe added 7.3 rebounds a game and was named First-Team All-MVC in 2019, Berhow has the McCleod Center record for three-pointers made in a game (eight) and shot 44.6% from the arc in 2019, Carter is a swiss-army knife on the court, and Born has shown he can score with the best in the conference, being named MVC Freshman of the Year in 2020.
UNI basketball is NOT going to be the 111th best team in the country. They're going to be a hell of a lot better than that.