They might have lost the Missouri Valley regular-season title on the final day, but the Northern Iowa Panthers shook that loss to No. 12 Wichita State off and won when it mattered most – in the conference tournament.
UNI (30-3, 16-2 MVC) grabbed the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 69-62 victory over Illinois State in the MVC tournament title game.
And now the 10th-ranked Panthers are hoping for a favorable seed in March Madness, their first trip to the tournament since 2010.
Here’s what you need to know about the UNI Panthers:
1. The Panthers Made the Sweet 16 In Their Last NCAA Appearance
UNI last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and played the role of Cinderella. As the 9-seed, the Panthers first knocked off No. 8 UNLV before taking down No. 1 Kansas to reach the Sweet 16. But they were stopped there by No. 5 Michigan State, who represented the region in the Final Four. That tournament made former UNI star Ali Farokhmanesh a household name.
This time around, there will be no Cinderella story for Northern Iowa as it is expected to receive a high seed.
UNI has made the tournament 5 other times in the past 25 years – 1990, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009. As a 14-seed in 1990, the Panthers beat No. 3 Missouri in the first round. In the other four appearances, they lost in the first round.
2. Seth Tuttle Is the Man to Watch
Seth Tuttle does it all for UNI. He leads the team in scoring (15.3 points per game), rebounding (6.8) assists (3.3) and is tied for the team-lead with 19 blocked shots.
All this while shooting 61.6 percent from the field, which is sixth in Division I.
The Panthers ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 54.3 points per game. The offense averages 65.4.
To see all of UNI’s season stats, click here.
3. Ben Jacobson Has 2 30-Win Seasons at UNI
Ben Jacobson is in his ninth year at the helm of UNI and has two 30-win campaigns under his belt – this season and in 2009-10, when the Panthers finished 30-5.
He has a career 196-104 record in 9 seasons, which includes a 103-59 Missouri Valley mark. Jacobson, 44, also has four 20-win seasons and hasn’t had a losing record yet.
He graduated in 1994 from the University of North Dakota, where he played guard and led his teams to two Division II Elite Eight appearances. Jacobson’s first coaching job was as a student assistant at UND.
In March 2010, he signed a 10-year extension worth $450,000 a year with annual increases of $25,000 through the length of the contract.
Jacobson is married to Dawn and they have two children.
4. UNI Represented the United States In the 2007 World University Games
The 2007 World University Games were held in Bangkok, Thailand, and instead of sending a team of college All-Stars, the United States was represented by Northern Iowa.
The Panthers took 9th place in the 24-team tournament.
5. Ex-NFL Quarterback Kurt Warner Is a Graduate of Northern Iowa
Located in Cedar Falls, the University of Northern Iowa was founded in 1876 and has an enrollment of roughly 14,000, which includes a approximately 12,100 undergrads.
Super Bowl winning quarterback and former NFL MVP Kurt Warner is a UNI alum.