Second Round Saturday

No. 1 KU didn't seem to take No. 16-seed Lehigh lightly in the Jayhawks' 90-74 opening-round victory in the NCAA tournament at Ford Center in Oklahoma City Thursday night. Kansas, though, came out tight, falling behind 12-4 before getting untracked and eventually running away from the Mountain Hawks in the second half.

With a second-round matchup against No. 9-seed Northern Iowa Saturday at 4:40 p.m. (CT) back at Ford Center, the Jayhawks (33-2) must be sharper knowing the competition is that much tougher.

"I just think when we're challenged and know it's a good team, we come better prepared to play," KU senior guard Sherron Collins said about his team's pattern this season. "Our energy level is unbelievable in those games."

From here on out in the tournament, KU will be challenged by all teams believing they have a legitimate shot to win the national championship. That certainly includes Northern Iowa (29-4, 15-3 in Missouri Valley Conference), which has won five straight and is the best defensive team left in the tourney.

Head coach Ben Jacobson's Panthers are holding foes to just 54.6 points per game while scoring 63.5. UNI shoots 43.1 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from three-point range, and 75.9 percent at the charity stripe. The Panthers limit opponents to 40.4 percent from the field and 33.5 percent from beyond the arc, while outrebounding foes 32.5 to 29.5 per game.

UNI (No. 9 seed is highest ever in the NCAA tournament) is coming off a thrilling and gritty 69-66 victory over No. 8-seed UNLV on Thursday. Senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh hit the game-winning three-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining. He led three Panthers in double figures with 17 points, while making 5 of 9 shots from three-point range. UNI shot 9 of 19 from downtown for 47.4 percent, 20 of 23 at the free-throw line, and outrebounded UNLV 35 to 28.

Northern Iowa, which claimed the regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championship and MVC tournament title, won its first NCAA game since an upset over No. 3 seed Missouri in 1990. This was also just the Panthers' second victory ever in the NCAA tournament. They had lost their last four NCAA opening-round games by five points each.

Seven-foot-one, 290-pound senior center Jordan Eglseder leads the team with 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He's followed in scoring by senior forward and MVC Player of the Year Adam Koch (11.7 ppg, 84.2 free-throw percentage),  junior guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe (10.7 ppg), Farokhmanesh (9.5 ppg), sophomore guard Johnny Moran (5.5 ppg), junior forward Lucas O'Rear (4.2 ppg), junior guard Kerwin Dunham (3.6 ppg), freshman forward Jake Koch (3.2 ppg) and freshman guard Marc Sonnen (2.9 ppg).

KU coach Bill Self and his players expect a true battle on Saturday. After a good night's rest following their late night game with Lehigh, the Jayhawks are recharged and looking to play one of their best games of the year against the defensive-minded Panthers.

"(We're) really focused in on not only guarding but coming up with ways to attack one of the most sound teams that we've had an opportunity to play in a long time at Kansas," Self said.

This will certainly be a matchup of two of the best defensive teams in America. KU allows just 64.1 points per game and holds foes to 37.8 percent field goal shooting and 33.1 percent from beyond the arc.

 "I would say from a numbers standpoint, our defense matches up with anybody in the country," Self said. "We don't turn people over at an alarming rate, but we do get a lot of steals and we do rebound the ball decent and above average."

And then there's UNI.

"Northern Iowa to me is a team that when you watch them on tape, you realize that they're not out of position," Self said. "When they help, they don't help the helper, they help the helper's helper. They are really, really sound in that regard, and they make you make plays over the top and don't give up easy baskets. It's a pretty simple formula, take good shots and don't give up easy baskets and you got a chance.

"Their staff has done as good a job as anybody teaching positions defensively. They're as good as anybody we've played against, period."

Self's players are certainly impressed with the Panthers.

"I would just say that their knowledge of where to be at what specific time," junior center Cole Aldrich said. "They got real good ball screen defense. They really have very few lapses on the defensive end. It's going to really be tough to score offensively with them because they do have those very few lapses."

UNI also has potent outside shooters. The Panthers boast six players who have made at least 21 threes this season, led by Farokhmanesh with 72.

"They stretch the defense," Collins said. "Sometimes they can put five on the court and they all shoot the 3."

Two intriguing matchups to watch are the 6-11 Aldrich battling against the 7-1 Eglseder, and KU's 6-8 power forward Marcus Morris going against Adam Koch.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," Aldrich said. "He's (Eglseder) got a big body. The one thing that I think that really helps us out is just the conference that we play in, having Pittman (Dexter, Texas center) and other guys like that throughout the conference that we play really helps us kind of go against those guys. ... It's going to be a battle in the paint."

Self also thinks fans will enjoy seeing Morris and Koch battle each other. Koch is a 6-8, 255 big man who can step outside and shoot the three (24 treys this season).

 "I think it will be a great matchup because they're both terrific players," Self said. "Those are two really good four men that I think will be an interesting matchup and I think it will be a very important part of the game."

UNI will try to keep this a ball-controlled game with low scoring, while the Jayhawks would love to make it an up-tempo game. But Self stressed KU can win either way.

"Whatever the pace is, we need to embrace it and enjoy it," Self said. "We don't need to get frustrated because we don't like the pace. I think we have a team that's equipped to play fast or not so fast. The whole deal from my standpoint is we need to be patient on both ends, offensively or defensively, because there's going to be a lot of possessions that I think gets under 10 (seconds). The team that executes under 10 seconds on the shot clock will probably have a great chance."

Self, too, hopes his team can get off to a hot start against the Panthers, unlike its rough start against Lehigh on Thursday. UNI certainly isn't a Cinderella Lehigh; they're the real deal.

"Northern Iowa can beat anybody in the country on any night," Self said. Top Stories