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Arena: Uni Dome
School Name: University of Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa Coach Greg McDermott wants his basketball team to embrace the high expectations others are placing on it heading into the 2005-06 season.
The Panthers figure to land at, or near, the top of the preseason rankings. They return five starters from a team that won 21 games and made the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Star guard Ben Jacobson will contend for the leagues Player of die Year award as well as national honors.
"It was gratifying two years ago to be picked sixth and win the Valley Tournament and be in die NCAA Tournament," McDermott says. "The hardest diing to do in sports is to live up to your level of expectations. The level of expectation that was placed on us this past year hadn't been there before, and our guys were able to respond to that and were motivated by that."
Northern Iowa returns players who accounted for over 90 percent of the team's scoring and over 80 percent of its rebounding last season. Jacob-son is die Panthers' marquee player, having earned first-team All-Valley honors as a junior. He led UNI in scoring last season with 17.9 points per game and has few peers when it comes to making plays in the clutch.
Erik Crawford and Brooks McKowen hold down the other two starting spots on the perimeter, and John Little is a capable reserve. Grant Stout and 2005 MVC Freshman of die Year Eric Coleman provide die Panthers with a strong inside presence after combining for 22 points and 14 rebounds per game as first-time starters last season. Northern Iowa received a bonus when Coleman avoided offseason elbow surgery following a summer league injury.
With such a veteran group returning, UNI's newcomers could find playing time hard to come by early in the season. One player who will receive a good look will be guard Mike Williams, a junior college transfer who could provide some much-needed quickness at the point. Williams drew summer league raves for his quickness and playmaking ability.
McDermott, too, is drawing praise for his quick turnaround of a woeful UNI program. In four seasons, the Panthers have won 67 games, posting back-to-back 20-victory seasons that produced NCAA Tournament berths. "I'm proud of where our program is and understand that if you blink and relax, that it can disappear as fast or faster than it took to build," McDermott says.
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