CEDAR FALLS — Non-conference scheduling for Northern Iowa men’s basketball during the Ben Jacobson era has never been easy.
Some of the nation’s best teams — including top-ranked North Carolina in 2015 — have been victim to Jacobson’s teams and McLeod Center’s raucous sellout environment.
So, add in a number of health protocols, and what already was a difficult task each year in filling out a non-conference schedule as a pesky mid-major becomes next to impossible.
“I’ve never seen scheduling like it is right now,” UNI associate head coach Kyle Green said. “It’s kind of like the wild West. Everybody is out there just trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Green, along with director of operations Ike Hermer, have been leading UNI’s scheduling efforts. The Panthers lost four of their original non-conference games because the NCAA is reducing the total number of regular-season games allowed from 31 to 27. Among the games lost was a multi-team event (MTE) — the Cayman Islands Classic — which featured quality teams like Nevada, Miami and Kansas State.
However, a report by CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein this past week indicated UNI has found a new MTE to participate in — Elevate Hoops’ 16-team MTE in Lincoln, Neb. Reports indicate LSU, Nevada, Illinois State, Cleveland State and Oklahoma State are tentatively committed along with UNI.
“If we had to make a decision right now (on that MTE) that’s what we would do,” Green said. “It’s not confirmed because we don’t know who our opponents are yet. And that’s the hardest part. It’s like chicken and the egg, because all the event promoters want you to come play in these MTEs, but they can’t tell you who you’re playing because they don’t know yet. And every coach wants to know before they commit who they’re playing.”
Finalizing buy games and home-and-homes are on hold until an MTE is finalized, according to Green.
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UNI lost its home game against North Carolina A&T because of travel logistics, and a return game at home against Northern Illinois due to the season’s start date being pushed back. However, the Panthers still plan to begin a series with Richmond this season and play a return game from last year at Marshall. Beyond that, the Panthers are scheduled to play a neutral site game at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., against New Mexico State on Dec. 13.
“Those are what we have planned right now, but all that could change. Everything is so fluid,” Green said. “I hesitate to even talk about those (games) until they’re a done deal.”
Green said since the season start date (Nov. 25) and 27-game total was established three weeks ago, he’s been on the phone with six to 10 teams and/or event promoters every day. Despite how fluid scheduling continues to be, there is a date upcoming Green thinks will create a sense of urgency for teams to get things finalized.
“When we start official practice Oct. 13 I think the focus of so many teams will switch a little bit back to the basketball piece and there will be more of a push among coaches, ‘we’ve got to move forward, we’ve got to make some decisions,’ and then adjust from there,” he said.
Cole Bair, correspondent