I’d like to dedicate this post to our own Bryan Holt, who will be AWOL till Friday celebrating his 21st birthday. Middle America salutes you, sir. Don’t do anything that crazed UNI fans wouldn’t do after the biggest win in school history…
Disclaimer: none of the following will help you pronounce “Farokhmanesh” correctly.
Hey, guess who’s got the most wins in the country?
But don’t let my half-assed attempts at humor mislead you – this post is most definitely about the University of Northern Iowa Panthers, a team some maintain pulled the greatest shocker in Tourney history on Saturday.
These people, of course, are wrong. No team led by Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins can be involved in the greatest upset ever. More to the point, no team with 30 wins can be on the victorious end. Much like Pamela Anderson – a long, long, long time ago – the Panthers are for real. Coach Ben Jacobson can attest to this with the new decade-long contract he inked today. Ten years, $450K per, with a $25K raise every year. He’s seein’ dolla dolla bills y’all. And with this bunch, he’s the only one – unless these guys plan on going into banking.
You won’t see any of the Panthers in the NBA next year. Not Missouri Valley Player of the Year big man Adam Koch, not giant-killer Ali Farokhmanesh, not any of the other 6-foot-nothing guards, and not Kwadzo Ahelegbe (if only because no GM can pronounce his name). But, go figure – you might just get a glimpse of these castoffs and big-school rejects in Indianapolis come April. And why the hell not? They’ve joined the Round of 16 without a guy that tops 12 points or 7 boards, they routinely get killed on the glass, and only two of their top-five scorers shoot over 38 percent. I mean, seriously, 38 percent – that’s a freaking Ty Cobb batting average.
UNI’s pretty much the Showtime Lakers, except the exact opposite: not flashy, not athletic, not even particularly fun watch. It’s best to think of them as your pickup game’s worst nightmare – a bunch of balding white guys who’ve never met a shot they didn’t want to take. And all double negatives aside, this team has absolutely no business being here.
Or so they’ve led us to believe…
The Long And Winding Road Northern Iowa’s been playing “hoops” for a while. I put hoops in quotations because this team first hit the hardwood with peach baskets nailed to the gym walls. Between 1903 and 1905, the Panthers went 11-12 combined against Midwest startups, a sheep and a piece of corn. They made the College Division (read: Division II) Dance in ’62, ’74 and ’79 and the NAIA Tourney multiple times pre-Korean War. Like Cinderella brethren St. Mary’s, though, UNI’s recent history is nothing to scoff at. This is their fifth dance since 2004 and, at nine, their lowest seeding ever. Back in ’90, they shocked No. 3 Missouri as a 14 for their first and only Tourney win. But as is the case with most dancing white men, the Panthers have steadily grown in confidence despite continued failures.
A Season to Remember As Tony Kornheiser said on Monday’s episode of “Pardon The Interruption”: “They lost to DePaul. DePaul!” And while Quentin Richardson just fired up a hate mail campaign, The Cantankerous One’s got a point. UNI played a schedule easier than a UF sorority house on a Thursday night. Yeah, they drilled Tourney darlings-until-they-weren’t Sienna back in December and squeezed by a handful of down power-conference teams (Boston College, Iowa, Iowa St.), but, hell, the rest of the Ws came against your run-of-the-mill Drakes and Bradleys and Indiana States. And personally, if I were Kornheiser, I would have gone with, “They lost to Evansville. Evansville!” because, you know, they actually lost to Evansville. But here’s a heck of a stat, and one that really tells you all you need to know about this team: they’ve allowed more than 60 points only nine times the entire season. Three of these instances came in the first four games of the year. The other two came in the Tourney. The Panthers, much like a grenade or hippo in a Seaside condo, simply don’t let you score (You thought I was passed “Jersey Shore” references? Wrong.). So these guys can afford to stink it up from the floor (43 percent shooting) and beyond the arc (36 percent) because they absolutely smother you on the other end. Opponents are scoring 55 points a game on under 41 percent from the field. As The Round Mound might say, that’s terble.
Bracket Busters For the life of me, I don’t understand why Kansas waited until 7 minutes left in the second half to start trapping. Chalk it up to a large dose of ego, I guess, because when Bill Self put the clamps on down the stretch, UNI’s inbounders turned into a bunch of post-breakdown Chuck Knoblauchs. Just one errant pass and one massive brainfart after another. If I’m going to keep this metaphor going – and believe me, I am – then Ali Farokhmanesh deserves a Derek Jeter comparison for his ice-watered dagger of a three that many a Seth Davis are correctly heralding as the shot of the tournament. With just over a half-minute left, the little man with big balls hoisted from distance with a one-point lead and 34 seconds left on the game clock, giving way to one of those “You stupid fucOOHHHHHYEAAHH!!” situations on the UNI bench. Net. Down goes Frazier. And in all the round-of-32 hysteria, you forget about Farokhmanesh’s heroics two days before against eight seed UNLV. He hit the game-winning three to break a 66-all tie with 4.9 seconds left. “That’s what you dream for is to make a shot like that,” he told ESPN. And that was before Kansas. Unbelievable.
Famous Alums Not Named Kurt Warner (*crickets*) I guess we’re going to have to go with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), but I don’t want to harp on him too long for fear that the bad mojo will rub off. To get some idea of UNI’s lack of notoriety, just check the school’s Wikipedia page, where you will find listed prominently under notable alumni one “John Hall” of – I kid you not – the Goose Island Brewery. Here’s another fun fact: Kurt Warner isn’t even in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. That’s like Sarah Palin missing out on the Valley Frontiersman’s “Who’s Who of Wasilla ’08.” Don “Not the Boxing Promoter” King was inducted in ’97. Bass ackwards. I, for one, would like to see some more love for UNI basketball ticket manager Stacy Harris, who not only deserves her own hall of fame, but should from here on out be spoken of only in the same hallowed discussions reserved for the likes of Michael Bolton, Barry Melrose and Bobby Budnick. As I told Bryan last night: Page 27, three rows down, hard right. I promise it’s worth it. Seriously, do this for me.
Good luck, UNI. You’re a one-point underdog to Michigan State on Friday, but you’re a one-point overdog in the hearts of Casualtists everywhere. Let’s do this, Panthers. Let’s do this.