The wait is over, Cavalier fans! Virginia finally returns from from a long, long, long, long exam break to welcome the Northern Iowa Panthers tomorrow at 4 PM on ESPN3.
Northern Iowa is a solid, well-coached team that comes to JPJ at 5-5. They won their 3 home games (two cupcakes, then a big one vs. VCU), dropped all 3 games on the road, and split their 4 neutral site games, including an 80-66 loss against Maryland. KenPom ranks UNI at 105 in the natopn.
UNI starts a small, but relatively experienced lineup. Their offense mainly goes through 6-1 junior guard Deon Mitchell and 6-8 junior Seth Tuttle. Mitchell isn't a prolific shooter, but he'll still take plenty of shots and is dangerous once he gets to the rim, where he could score or draw fouls. He's averaging a team-high 13.5 points per game, but isn't the most efficient in doing so, with an eFG% of 47.6%. Virginia must force him to settle for jumpers, where he shoots 27% on the season.
Tuttle's another non-shooter who will be the focus of Akil Mitchell and UVA's interior defense. Tuttle averages 13 ppg and is also the team leader in rebounding. Tuttle has an eFG% of 48.8%, mainly because he shoots about 10% fewer jumpers than Deon Mitchell. Once again, Virginia's main charge will be to keep Tuttle away from the basket, and especially off the FT line.
Northern Iowa's most dangerous shooter is 6-9 Nate Buss, who comes off the bench and averages 19 minutes per game. It's tough to figure why Buss doesn't play more; he is UNI's tallest player and has shown the ability to score from everywhere on the court. He is shooting 83% at the rim, 65% on 2-point jumpers, and 50% on 3s, with his 70 total shot attempts divided up approximately evenly among the three.
Wes Washpun (6-1 Soph), Matt Bohannon (6-4 Soph), and Chip Rank (6-6 Sr) will also start for the Panthers. Bohannon and Rank have combined to shoot 23 for 27 on two-pointers this season. However, Bohannon is the team-leader with 58 3-point attempts, while shooting 24%. Rank is second with 52 attempts, but is a 33% shooter.
UNI is a miserable 3-point shooting team (29.8% on the season, 294th in the nation). So the Hoos must focus hard on stopping Buss behind the arc, while letting the rest of the Panthers fire away. Instead, UVA must lock down the interior, where UNI has been quite strong (54.7% on 2-pointers, 26th in the nation). The Packline defense makes Northern Iowa a good matchup for the Hoos if the team comes out and executes. Despite the Panthers' propensity for interior shooting, they are a poor offensive rebounding team; UVA should be able to exploit its height and rebounding advantages inside and shut down the defensive boards, while continuing to grab a higher number on offense.
Defensively, UNI plays a standard man defense, and is solid if unspectacular in doing so. They come in ranked 111th in the nation on KenPom, with an adj. efficiency of 100.8. Teams shoot do shoot a high volume of three-pointers against them.
KenPom predicts a 67-57 (62 possession) UVA win, with an 87% chance of coming away victorious. Northern Iowa simply doesn't have the firepower to match UVA's, particularly at home. To win, Virginia must keep its turnover woes under control and make sure that UNI baskets don't come easily. In their 77-68 win over VCU, the Panthers shot 67% on two-pointers, while also getting to the line to attempt 28 FTs. If UNI shoots remotely close to this number, it may be time to panic...But the Wahoo Packline, which is 6th in the nation in defensive 2-point shooting %, should be able to take care of business.
After the Northern Iowa game, the Hoos have a quick turnaround before Norfolk State comes to JPJ on Monday evening for a re-match of last year's NIT game. In that game, NSU used a late burst to pull within 3 points with 5 minutes to play before the Hoos put the Spartans away late. Wahoo fans will also remember the teams' 2011 matchup, when UVA won on a last-second Assane Sene tip-in of a missed free throw. So, let's be careful with NSU. Then, Virginia heads to Knoxville for a showdown with Tennessee in the team's final OOC the following Monday.