Kissimmee, Fla. – It is a new season for Northern Iowa and Arizona State, and both teams are glad for that. Because they will have officially put some bad memories from last season behind them by the time they meet at 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday in the opening round of the Tire Pros Invitational. The game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will be broadcast on ESPNU.
UNI certainly has plenty of positive memories from last season, including winning 23 games and capturing the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship. Still, the frustrating flashback from that season was of the Panthers giving up a 12-point lead in the final 44 seconds of regulation and losing to Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “There is no question (that loss was) one of the hardest I’ve been a part of,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said.
But nobody expects the Panthers to be down for long. Despite losing three senior starters from last season and having a total of seven freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the roster this season, UNI still was picked to finish third in the tough Missouri Valley Conference. “I think that shows people respect what we’ve built.” Jacobson said.
Of course, it helps that one of UNI’s returners – 6-foot-5 senior guard Jeremy Morgan – happens to be the MVC preseason player of the year. Morgan averaged 11.3 points per game last season and led the team in rebounds (189), steals (70) and blocks (32). He began this season with 11 points and four steals in just 19 minutes of playing time in the Panthers’ 74-37 season-opening victory over Division III Coe College.
As for Arizona State, there is quite a bit about last season that the Sun Devils would like to forget. After getting off to a 10-3 start, ASU went 5-13 in the Pac 12 Conference, with only one victory in their final seven games. It was a season that Bobby Hurley, who was in his first year as ASU head coach, called “a learning experience.”
The Sun Devils are hopeful that the lessons from last season will translate into more victories this season. The offense certainly appears to be clicking, as ASU scored a total of 184 points in victories over Portland State and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo last week.
“I’m very pleased with where we are after the first weekend,” Hurley said. “We have a lot of new faces, new parts and guys working together. … I think we are a work in progress. We are still finding ourselves, and guys are getting accustomed to playing some different positions. So we are going to keep working towards improvement day to day. But overall I am happy with our effort.”