Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun makes the game-winning jump shot over Evansville guard D.J. Balentine with 1.8 seconds remaining in an NCAA college basketball game against Evansville in the championship of the Missouri Valley Conference men's tournament in St. Louis on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Men's Basketball

Northern Iowa rebounds from 10-11 start to reach NCAAs

Shaka Smart went 1-1 against Northern Iowa the last two seasons while at VCU

Posted March 13th, 2016


Once the NCAA Tournament selection show is over, coaches are always asked the same question: What do you know about your opponent?

Texas coach Shaka Smart didn’t need to do much research on Northern Iowa, the Longhorns’ first-round opponent on Friday in Oklahoma City.

Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun (11) celebrates with teammates Jeremy Morgan, right, and Paul Jesperson after winning the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference men's tournament against Evansville, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in St. Louis. Northern Iowa beat Evansville 56-54 to win the championship and secure an automatic bid too the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun (11) celebrates with teammates Jeremy Morgan, right, and Paul Jesperson after winning the championship game of the Missouri Valley tournament against Evansville on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Smart faced the Panthers the last two seasons as the coach at Virginia Commonwealth.


Smart said senior Wes Washpun is a “dynamic, left-handed point guard.” Washpun averages a team-high 14.3 points per game. Matt Bohannon, Paul Jesperson and Jeremy Morgan also average in double figures.

“We beat them in double overtime at our place last year, and he just was terrific in that game,” Smart said of Washpun. “The year before, we lost to them at their place. He’s really, really good.”

The Panthers use a motion offense, which relies more on screens and cutting than it does on set plays. Coach Ben Jacobson’s club was 10-11 at on point this season and finished fifth in conference play.

But Northern Iowa pulled things together and won 12 of its final 13 games, including a 56-54 win over Evansville in the Missouri Valley tournament final.

In that final win, Northern Iowa lost a 17-point lead, but Washpun saved the day with a buzzer-beating jumper from the top of the key.

“Not a better feeling in the world,” Washpun said.

“They’re going to make you work on the defensive end,” Smart said. “Then, on their defensive end, they really play an aggressive but packed-in defense. They really try to take away driving lanes and opportunities to get it in the paint. They’ll double the post. They playing a little more zone.

“Obviously starting tonight and moving forward, we’ll get an even better familiarity with what they do and figure out the game plan,” he added.