By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Northern Iowa Panthers struggle 1-2 but Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman expects them reBorn against his Razorbacks tonight.
16th-ranked Arkansas, 2-0 of the SEC, and Coach Ben Jacobson’s Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference tip off at 7 tonight at Walton Arena on the Razorbacks Radio Network and Internet video available on SEC Network +.
For its three games, 62-58 and 71-57 losses to Nicholls State and Vermont and a 95-58 rout of Dubuque all at home, the Panthers in defeat were without injured All-MVC point guard Bowen Born.
Born played off the bench against Dubuque and in just 16 minutes dished three assists and scored five points.
Musselman expects Born back at or near full tilt tonight.
Born’s presence obviously puts claws in the Panthers.
“We better bring our A-game,” Musselman said. “This is a very good and dangerous Northern Iowa team.”
The Panthers have another All-MVC guard, junior AJ Green, All-MVC for UNI’s 25-6 team in 2019-2020 and returned from an injury that cut his 2020-21 season season to three games. And they start a 6-9 center Austin Phyfe, not only leading the Panthers in scoring and rebounding, 11.0 and 4.7, but has dished 10 assists in three games against five turnovers.
“They have a conference player of the year-type talent in Green,” Musselman said. “They have a center, No. 50 (Phyfe) who in my opinion, is as good a passer as I’ve seen. They run offense through him. He can score the ball, as well.”
UNI power forward Noah Carter apparently can pop 3-pointers like a shooting guard.
“Noah Carter made nine threes last year their very first game against Western Kentucky,” Musselman, a former NBA head coach and assistant, said. “I’ve coached some really good shooters. I’ve never had a guy make nine threes in a game. None. Guys that are in the NBA right now that are known as shooters did not make nine 3’s in a game. And he (Carter) doesn’t even start all the time. So, there are a lot of problematic matchups that we are going to have to try and figure out because of Carter at the four, 50 (Phyfe) the five spot, and then Green. Green’s a great scorer, crafty, can score it off the bounce, can shoot threes.”
Jacobson is in his 14th year at UNI. He’s taken the Panthers to four NCAA Tournaments and won four first-round games.
“Very well coached,” Musselman said. “They cut extremely hard. They’re an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.”
And apparently not one the Hogs can afford to overlook anticipating next Monday and Tuesday’s Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City against Kansas State Monday and either Cincinnati or Illinois next Tuesday.
“We scheduled them because we thought they were a team that could win their conference,” Musselman said. “That’s what we think of them. I think their coach is one of the best coaches in the country, and they’re really good.”
Arkansas comes into tonight’s game off beating Gardner-Webb 86-69 Saturday at Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks were led by 7-3 center Connor Vanover, 19 points, seven rebounds and three shot blocks, after Vanover wasn’t used at all in the season-opening 74-61 victory over Mercer at Walton.
Vanover is back in the rotation, Musselman said during the Gardner-Webb postgame but at his Monday press conference the coach didn’t designate any starters as he pondered matchups vs. UNI.
Certainly guards JD Notae, 30 points against Mercer and 18 against Gardner-Webb, and Devo Davis, 10 points and six assists against Gardner-Webb and sophomore power forward/center Jaylin Williams, 10 assists and 16 rebounds in two games, seem likely to start.