If you're already making watch party plans for a Sunday rematch with Texas A&M - please keep reading (and don't buy any perishables until Saturday!).


With Ben Jacobson as coach at Northern Iowa since 2006 ... a big-stage, fifth-year PG in Wes Washspun ... three big guards who shoot the 3 ... wins over North Carolina (without Marcus Paige) and Iowa State this season ... as well as wins in 12 of their last 13 games, the UNI Panthers are no ordinary mid-major.


In fact, the Panthers will be playing Texas at the site of the program's biggest win - an NCAA Tournament upset of then-No. 1 seeded Kansas in Oklahoma City in 2010 on a 3-pointer by UNI folk hero Ali Farokhmanesh.


"Oklahoma City's been good to us so far," Jacobson said. "That shot by Farokhmanesh was pretty special. He continues to get a bunch of media play for it and requests for autographs. And he eats it up."


In terms of matchups, Texas has struggled against teams with big guards.


UNI has big guards who shoot the 3 much better than Texas shoots the 3 in 6-foot-4 Matt Bohanon, 6-foot-6 Paul Jesperson and 6-foot-5 Jeremy Morgan.


But the guy who makes it all go for the Panthers is fifth-year senior point guard Wes Washspun, a lefty who plays his best in the biggest games. Washspun had 21 in the win over North Carolina and 28 in the win over Iowa State - and shot 60 percent or better in both games.


This is an incredibly dangerous first-round game for a wobbly Longhorns' team that has gone 3-3 in its last six games, including two, 14-point losses to Baylor and a 30-point beatdown at home by Kansas.


And you don't have to wonder if the crowd in OKC is going to be cheering like crazy for UNI against the state's rivals from south of the Red River. And there will be a ton of Aggies in attendance as well!  


Texas leading scorer Isaiah Taylor has Plantar Fasciitis in his right heel, has shot just 36.8 percent (14 of 38 FG) the last four games and has been to the FT line just twice in the past two games.


Javan Felix, the team's third-leading scorer behind Taylor and Cam Ridley, has shot just 34.8 percent (8 of 23 FG) the last three games and has been to the FT line 0 times in the last two games.


Taylor and Felix are two guys who make a living from driving and getting fouled. Lately, the best penetrator for Texas has been freshman Kerwin Roach. Shaka Smart said Roach has been the team's best player the last two weeks.


That's a great tribute to Roach, who has worked hard and steadily improved. But for Roach to be the best player on a team that has a first-team All-Big 12 point guard (Taylor), the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (Ibeh) and an honorable mention All-Big 12 player (Felix), is a bit concerning.


So, let's look at how Texas can advance against Northern Iowa, making your Sunday hex rally ... err ...  watch party proceed as planned.


Shaka Smart said Monday Cam Ridley, who missed 19 games with a fractured left foot before playing 2 minutes against Baylor in Kansas City, might be good for up to 20 minutes of action, depending on how he's feeling.


If Ridley can contribute meaningful minutes, that's huge - because the UNI Panthers down low are not huge.


Texas will start Prince Ibeh, and I'd run a play for Ibeh on offense immediately. For some reason, Ibeh gets engaged and seems to stay engaged/excel after seeing one of his shots go through the hoop.


Texas is the bigger, stronger team down low with Ibeh, Cleare and Ridley. UNI's big man is 6-9 sophomore Bennett Koch. That's it, and he only averages 3.6 rebounds per game.


Ibeh, Ridley and Cleare need to play like Ibeh, Ridley and Cleare. Rebound. Block shots. Alter shots. Put-back dunks. Impose wills.


UNI is not a good rebounding team (30 rpg). So Texas, a slightly better rebounding team (35 rpg), has to wipe the Panthers out on the glass. The Longhorns have to limit UNI to one shot per possession while grabbing offensive boards to produce easy, second-chance points.


And when possible, Taylor, Felix and Kerwin Roach need to get out and run to beat UNI down the floor for what should be a healthy amount of transition buckets.


After returning from Texas' one-and-done loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament, Shaka Smart had a team meeting in which he told his players to talk amongst themselves and air out grievances, even if it meant calling teammates out. It was a meeting Damarcus Holland said probably caused a few guys on the team to head home and shed a few tears.


Probably not the way most teams have started a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but who knows?


Smart has been working overtime all season on the psychology of a team that told Smart the love and excitement for the game had gone stale (or worse) under former coach Rick Barnes.


Seen as an effective coach in March because he gets his players to play confident and loose come NCAA Tournament time, Smart is done with any excuses at this point.


And Smart wants his team to snap out of it and be done with them, too. He wants his players, including five seniors, to realize the only way they will have a memorable March is to pull together like never before and to have fun playing a game they love.


"We had to get all that stuff out," Smart said. "Because it's time to go play with your hair on fire."


The same way Northern Iowa has been playing while winning 12 of its last 13 games, including the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.


So, it's off to Oklahoma City, where Texas hopes any Farokhmaneshing this time is done by the Longhorns.



Horns Digest Top Stories