Tim Getting is the sports editor for the Northern Iowan, and was kind enough to contribute this article on his school’s Cinderella story.
Preview – A Realization of Royalty
Entering their fifth tournament appearance in seven seasons, Northern Iowa expected to be less of a Cinderella and more of a Sleeping Beauty. They treated loyal Panther fans and unloyal Hawkeye fans to the program’s best regular season ever, winning a school-record 25 games and peaking at No. 18 in the AP Poll. They won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title outright then went on and took the MVC tournament championship too. The McLeod Center court in Cedar Falls was fully defended with a 14-0 record that included wins over Siena and Old Dominion. This was all achieved with practically the same team that nearly defeated Purdue in last March’s madness.
Selection Sunday dawned and the Panther players wore fake grins as Mr. Gumbel relayed the news that UNI earned a No. 9 seed and a potential second round matchup with the nation’s best team. It now seemed as if a charming awakening would have to be replaced with a slipper-fitting appointment if UNI had hopes of leaving Oklahoma City alive.
The slipper fit snug on the foot of Ali Farokhmanesh, and the Iranian Idol propelled the Panthers into the Sweet 16 with consecutive game-winning threes. So will the magic and trite princess metaphors last another round? That will be answered Friday as UNI takes on Michigan State in St. Louis.
Friday’s game provides a unique coaching showdown in an old pro and young gun who impart physical mentalities on their cowpoke (yes, we have progressed from a princess to a cowboy metaphor). Michigan State coach Tom Izzo holsters a 33-11 tournament record while appearing in his third-straight Sweet 16. His boys specialize in boards where they boast the country’s best rebounding margin at +8.7. Coach Jacobson leads his herd into its first-ever Sweet 16, priding his Panthers on defense as their scoring defense (55 ppg) is the nation’s second-best.