Team Profile: Northern Iowa 71, Old Dominion 62
The college basketball world got a sneak preview of Ali Farokhmanesh Friday night as Northern Iowa shoved away the Old Dominion Monarchs 71-62. Farokhmanesh led all scorers with 23 points despite not having a single point at the half.
UNI displayed both exceptional court balance and prudent patience. The zone defense of Old Dominion was constantly recovering in an attempt to follow the ball.
Northern Iowa guards clearly spent the last few days drilling against a 2-3 zone. They were familiar with the rotations and extremely poised. UNI spent the majority of the first hald with a double-digit lead.
The Monarchs slashed the gap to four momentarily with just under 17:00 to play. The pendulum swung right back in the Panthers’ favor, though, as Ahelegbe penetrated to the very heart of the ODU zone only to kick it out to a wide-open Farokhmanesh. Like he has been doing all season, Farokhmanesh nailed it. From that moment on Iowa kid after Iowa kid showed their shooting touches. The display featured six players converting challenged triples.
Old Dominion nudged its way back into the contest a couple of times only to be beat down by the same script… Farokhmanesh hitting an obnoxiously deep three-point shot. The numerical importance of the three points pales in comparison to the emotional toll taken.
Every time the Monarchs started to believe again, the man with the short first name and long last name buried a long shot with his short stroke. His presence was as overwhelming as his name is to public address announcers.
Farokhmanesh is no stranger to hitting big three-pointers. In the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, all he did was bury a three pointer and a pair of free throws in the 60-57 OT championship win over Illinois State.
As usual, Gerald Lee led ODU in scoring with 19 points and three rebounds. Lee fouled out with fifteen seconds remaining, the game already decided.
Impact: With the win, Northern Iowa is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. The team will certainly upend Evansville Tuesday night before battling Illinois State in a week. The Cardinals are good, but UNI is unbeaten at the McLeod Center this season. With a projected 26-3 regular season record, UNI could be looking at a 5-6 seed in the Big Dance.
The Valley actually has decent precedent for earning a top half seed (1-8). In the last decade, five times a MVC school was given a seed better than 8.
#6 Creighton in 2003
#5 Southern Illinois 2005
#7 Wichita State 2006
#4 Southern Illinois 2007
#5 Drake 2008
In 2006 and 2007, the conference’s best team advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. This Northern Iowa team might equal that fete.
The Colonial Athletic Association began the year with several noteworthy teams including Northeastern, VCU, William & Mary, and Old Dominion.
Out of conference ODU played Missouri, Mississippi State, Richmond, Georgetown, Dayton, Charlotte, and now Northern Iowa. The Monarchs did what the selection committee wants; they played people. Unfortunately, ODU lost almost every one of those games. The Monarchs’ best wins were at Georgetown and hosting Charlotte.
ODU and William & Mary still have RPI’s that keep them around the bubble, but VCU and Northeastern are fading. ODU owes VCU payback for the 70-58 pummeling on February 6th. The Monarchs will get that chance next Saturday in the final regular season game.
Sweeping the final two contests will put ODU at 23-8 (15-3) with a respectable RPI. The team will be watching the other bubble squads closely throughout the weeks to come.