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Nardone: Northern Iowa Beating Good Teams Isn’t a Fluke

Wes Washpun of the Northern Iowa Panthers attacks the rim against the Iowa State Cyclones
Justin Hayworth, AP

The eyes of the nation — well, ones not turned to bowl football or kick-punch-tackle on FOX — got to witness yet another Northern Iowa upset on Saturday. Mainly, they got to see a depleted Iowa State Cyclones squad fall victim to the Wes Washpun show — with a wrong turn of Georges Niang’s body aiding in the entertainment.

And, honestly, what a show it was.

It is somewhat amazing, though. Had such a fluke thing as Niang slipping not happened, we might not be here today. But we are.

Every little aspect of the game will and should be processed for a bit, and while there are certainly things to criticize Steve Prohm and Iowa State for, many a columnists wouldn’t have too much to write about had the end of the game not looked like the floor-wiper-guy missed a spot.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the fatigue that hurt the Cyclones. It was Northern Iowa’s terrific start to the game, as the Panthers made 14 of their first 17 shot attempts. Washpun, who finished the game with 28 points, scored 17 of them in the first 20 minutes of action alone. The sole saving grace for Iowa State was the fact that it was able to cut into the lead late in the first half, trimming it down to a 9 point deficit.

But this isn’t about Iowa State.

Let’s not make the same mistake we made when the Panthers upset North Carolina earlier in the season.

Really, one upset is neat, but two is a trend. While it by no means equates to some super large down-the-road picture, it sure as heck makes it seem that Northern Iowa is in great shape heading into a relative easier part of the schedule.

In the preview for this game, some astonishingly good looking writer mentioned that the Panthers were somewhat like Ryan Reynolds. Not exactly a superstar, but not a flop either—more like a team in the middle. Consistent. Not great or horrible at anything, yet as reliable as the day is long.

And while I still feel mostly the same way, it’s now safe to say that the Northern Iowa Panthers are better than Ryan Reynolds.

Sorry, Ryan. I'm actually a fan, fwiw...

Sorry, Ryan. I’m actually a fan, fwiw…

The win over the previously undefeated Cyclones has Northern Iowa sitting with a 7-3 record, and the Panthers don’t play a (currently) ranked team the rest of the way.

Only a few teams, including Wichita State, seem poised to offer any more of a dangerous threat than anyone the Panthers have already faced. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are going to run the table, but the MVC might not be as destined to be for Wichita State’s picking as everyone assumed during the offseason.

In fact—and yes, it’s hard to balance it out as they’ve all played different non-conference schedules—the Shockers are 5-5 this season, and four other MVC teams have better overall records.

While we know the Shockers have played a tough non-conference schedule, so too have the Panthers, though. The difference being that Northern Iowa has won games against then number one North Carolina and number five ranked Iowa State.

After the second huge upset win, Northern Iowa has more to be excited about than merely Washpun looking like a bucket-making prodigy.

Keep in mind, Paul Jesperson played out of his mind on Saturday — hitting all four of his first four attempts from distance and finishing with a career-high 21 points. Jesperson, like Washpun, is a guy who has developed in a big way from one season to another. He’s nearly tripled his production from last year, actually.

Now scoring over 13 points per game, it seems as if Northern Iowa has two legitimate offensive options.

Amd while that might not seem like a huge deal, the fact that both players are playing well against great competition means they are likely going to take advantage of lesser teams as well.

Okay, man. I am sorry! Don't hurt me!!!

Okay, man. I am sorry! Don’t hurt me!!!

Regardless, now lovers of mid-major hoops are forced to follow along with UNI if they previously were not.

While that conference seems to be shaking up far different than what we expected, Northern Iowa not only looks like a team that might make a run for the regular season crown, but good gawd are the Panthers exciting to watch.

Coach Jacobson, I think your phone might be ringing by season’s end.

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