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Three Key Takeaways.
- Seth Tuttle, Legit. Northern Iowa’s senior big man is not a household name among non-diehard college basketball fans although he dominated against Wichita State in his first big regular season close-up. But in his first NCAA Tournament game, he put on a show for a national television audience, displaying his versatile and disruptive game. Wanna see the 6’8” center run the offense out of the high post? Look no further than his beautiful first-half dime to Jeremy Morgan (who missed the layup). Wanna see his traditional big man moves? He sealed off the longer and more athletic Larry Nance, Jr., received the lob pass and put in an easy dunk. Worried that at just 6’8” he might not be able to do that against a bigger defender? Just watch him step out to the three-point line and drill one from deep. Defensively, he’s physical, disciplined and smart, anticipating the opponent’s plays. In short, he may not be as used to the spotlight as some of the guys in major conferences, but he’s as good of a college basketball player as I’ve seen this year.
- Physical, Disciplined, Experienced. You watch Northern Iowa go through the layup line in the pregame and you’re sort of unimpressed. A couple lanky and unexplosive guys in the 6’8” to 6’9” range, average athleticism, small guards. And then the ball is tipped; they run their offense through Tuttle and little point guard Wes Washpun; they clamp down on defense; they pound away on the glass; they exploit defenses to find open shooters. And they’re incredibly well-coached by head coach Ben Jacobson. What does the opponent want to do? Okay, let’s not let them do that. Today it was getting the ball out of Josh Adams’ hands (he scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting) — forcing Larry Nance to either shoot jumpers or go left — and make everybody else beat them. They may not be members of the all-airport team, but these guys can beat a lot of teams in this field. And they certainly won’t beat themselves.
- Wyoming Second-Half Life. At the halfway mark, Northern Iowa was up 11 and the Cowboys were fortuntate to be that close. The Panthers came out of the locker room and put together a quick 8-0 run and the next thing you know they were up 21 points and the game was over. Wyoming had shown no life. Larry Nance Jr. had two field goal attempts, two turnovers, two fouls and one point. And then, over the course of four minutes, Nance scored 13 straight points including a couple threes and a couple dunks and, following a Charles Hankerson three, the Cowboys were back within seven. The comeback stalled out, but at the very least, the Cowboys got a chance for a 10-minute second half stretch to show the nation why they were a worthy addition to the Tournament field.