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UNI beat writer picks Panthers

March 25, 2010

Kelly Beaton covers Northern Iowa for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Beaton is in his first season covering the Panthers and on Thursday spoke with The State News about Friday’s game with the Spartans.

The State News How would you describe Northern Iowa to someone who hasn’t seen them?

Kelly Beaton They’re tough, physical, gritty and smart. They don’t beat themselves, they don’t turn the ball over. If you put them on the free-throw line, they’re going to make 80 percent of their shots, and they’re a little bit more athletic than people give them credit for.

SN What have things been like in Cedar Falls this week?

KB You know, probably not as wild as people think. They don’t have this massive fan base like Michigan State clearly does. I was just on a Web chat today with a million Michigan State fans invading it. To put it in perspective, in late January, UNI played Creighton at home for a chance to clinch its first regular-season Missouri Valley Conference outright title ever and there were still 1,500 empty seats. They’re a program that’s only played Division I basketball since the 1980s, so they’re still kind of slowly but surely gathering a fan base. But the diehard fans they have are definitely passionate about this team.

SN Coach Ben Jacobson’s name has been rumored for some coaching vacancies but the team extended his contract Wednesday. Has that been a distraction for the team?

KB No. One reason they probably pounded it out and got it signed and delivered yesterday before they even left for the Sweet 16 is that they didn’t want it to be a distraction down here. They knew the national media was going to be asking questions about that and as a result, (Thursday) there was only two questions about it.

SN How has Northern Iowa been prepping for MSU?

KB What’s interesting is that they closed their practices Monday and Tuesday, which I don’t think they’ve ever done in the history of UNI basketball, so they’re definitely taking this game serious and kind of cranking things up another level this week. I couldn’t tell you the specifics of their practices, but they are worried about the fact that Michigan State can really get out and run in transition and they’re a little concerned about Michigan State’s rebounding prowess. That’s one area I think UNI probably will hold their own. Can they hold their own against some of Michigan State’s great athletes like Raymar Morgan? That remains to be seen and I have some questions about that.

SN With that being said, how do you think the game is going to go?

KB I thought UNI had realistically a 10 percent chance of beating Kansas and I thought maybe I was being optimistic and maybe blinded by the fact I had seen them win 29 games to that point and they blew my prediction out of the water there. I actually kind of think UNI will win this game, 71-64.

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