UNLV's visit to Oklahoma City for the NCAA Tournament won't quite be like a trip to the dentist or going to play Air Force, which some regard as a similar experience.
But Northern Iowa won't be the Rebels' idea of a day at the beach, either.
The ninth-seeded Panthers (28-4), champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, are all about blue-collar, tough-minded basketball. By no means are they a run-and-gun team. To the contrary. Northern Iowa allows only 54.3 points a game and holds opponents to 40 percent shooting.
"Our commitment (to defense) goes back a year ago at Christmas," coach Ben Jacobson said. "We bought into the concept of guarding the ball and ever since, we've done a good job at the end of the floor. We've got nine of 10 guys back from last year's team, so it was really a carryover to this year."
In Thursday's first-round game at the Ford Center, eighth-seeded UNLV will be facing a team coming off an 11-day break. After winning the Missouri Valley regular-season title, the Panthers swept Drake, Bradley and Wichita State in the tournament, which ended March 7.
"We certainly want to play well and win and continue to advance in the tournament," Jacobson said. "Part of that is for our league."
Northern Iowa's 28 wins are a school season record. The No. 9 seeding was roughly what Jacobson was expecting.
"I told the guys, most likely a seven or an eight seed, but it could be a six and it could be a nine," he said.
The Panthers have had to deal with adversity off the court. Senior Jordan Eglseder, the team's star center, was suspended for three games after being arrested for a drunken driving Feb. 14. Northern Iowa won two of the games without the 7-foot Eglseder, including a 71-62 victory over Old Dominion, which also made the 65-team NCAA field.
"That was a very big win for our team," Jacobson said. "It showed that we can play tournament-caliber basketball, even if we're missing a key (player)."
Northern Iowa gets most of its scoring from Eglseder, who averages 12 points, senior forward Adam Koch (11.8), junior guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe (10.7) and senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh (9.3).
"Our balance is a little different," Jacobson said. "You look at the (stat) sheet and you see we have four guys averaging between nine and 12. But we have four or five other guys who have hit in double-figures at times. So we're not really as limited as it may seem."
Jacobson said with five seniors and three juniors, he believed they could handle the temporary loss of Eglseder and not worry about the team's season unraveling. Now, they are intact and ready for the final phase of what has been a very successful season so far.
"We have great leadership on this team," Jacobson said. "That's why I thought we could get through it."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.