The first Greatest Moment of March happened Sunday in the finals of the MVC Tournament, when Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun clanged home a game-winning jumper to seal a trip to the NCAAs:
Northern Iowa is good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. They've already beaten some of the best teams in college basketball, including then-No. 1 UNC and then-No. 5 Iowa State. But thanks to a grisly 10-11 start that featured losses to many of the Missouri Valley Conference's worst teams, they might have missed the tournament if this shot didn't go in.
That rough stretch doesn't matter now. The Panthers are in the NCAA Tournament, and there are plenty of things that should have whichever big-time opponent they're facing worried.
Prepare to get Washed
Few mid-major players are as fun to watch as Wes Washpun. He can slam it:
He can blow by opponents:
Oh MY https://t.co/DjOZLzSBtc— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) March 6, 2016
He can cross opponents the hell over, as he did to D.J. Balentine on that game-winner. He's got hops, he's got handles, he's vicious.
The Tennessee transfer can't really shoot, something that's true of fewer and fewer guards in college hoops every year. But he can do pretty much everything else, and it's a joy to watch. He's a flashy stud, and March Madness is better with him in it.
How could the Panthers pull an upset?
Ben Jacobson has a system figured out. There are 351 teams in college basketball, so most teams aren't first or last in any major statistical categories. UNI is first in one and last in another. It's a sign of a concerted effort to play the game according to a methodical, effective system, and if UNI can play the way they want in the tournament, they can ruin somebody's year.
They're great in the half-court offense, letting Washpun do work. Either he beats you with his dribble or he finds one of UNI's multiple shooters. Things work out. And on defense, they have the lowest FTA/FGA ratio in the country, meaning they foul less than any other team in college basketball.
If a shot misses, UNI doesn't care. They're dead-last in college basketball in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing just 17.8 percent. That's because to the Panthers, the chance at a second shot is less valuable than getting back and preventing a fast break. The Panthers average just 62.9 possessions per game, 346th-fastest in college hoops, because they completely shut down the opportunity to score buckets in transition. They also don't really care about pushing the ball in transition themselves. They like it slow, and for an underdog, that's good.
On both sides of the ball, Northern Iowa is about discipline. With enough of it, they certainly could knock off a team that's better on paper.
Why have I heard of these guys before?
YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS WITH THAT.
UNI is best known for their 2010 upset of Kansas. They were a 9-seed, and big underdogs against a top-seeded Kansas team with title hopes. But Ali Farokhmanesh took one of the least advisable shots in NCAA Tournament history -- a three with 30 seconds on the shot clock, 36 seconds on the game clock and a one-point lead -- and drilled it. Farokhmanesh set an NCAA Tournament record for least give-a-damn that day, and nobody has come close to breaking it yet.
But UNI is more than just that one game. This is their ninth trip to the tourney, and fifth under Jacobson. Last year was their best team ever, as Seth Tuttle led the Panthers to an MVC tournament title and a 5-seed.
They still have yet to produce an NBA player, though. Farokhmanesh played in Europe for a bit, but is now an assistant at Nebraska. Tuttle is playing in Germany right now.
Weird mascot digest
UNI has two mascots, TC Panther and TK Panther.
TC Panther is the guy. It stands for "The Cat." TK Panther is the girl. It stands for "the kitten." THAT IS NOT HOW CAT AGING WORKS. FEMALE KITTENS DO NOT GROW INTO ADULT MALES.
Anyway, they're supposedly brother and sister, but I am very weirded out by them.
How Northern is Northern Iowa?
UNI is located in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which isn't to be confused with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is much larger. It also should be pointed out that neither of these towns is in Cedar County, Iowa, although both are on the Cedar River.
But anyway, let's check how accurate this school name is:
I dunno, man. I'd say UNI is about 70 percent of the way up Iowa, and 70 percent of the way east. At best, I'd call this school "Northeastern Iowa." Plus, there's an UPPER IOWA, which is higher than Northern Iowa!
For the record, there is no Southern Iowa or Eastern Iowa, although there is an Iowa Western Community College.
Can Northern Iowa pull the upset?
Oh, for sure.
Two things that should terrify top seeds: A team that's on a hot streak, and a team that's already beaten one of the nation's top teams.
UNI fits both. AHHHHHHH!
The Panthers have won 12 of 13, including their league tournament. And they've beaten North Carolina, Iowa State, and they have two wins against Wichita State. Those are four wins against teams ranked in the top 20 of Ken Pomeroy's ratings. They've already proven they can beat any team they're matched up against.
Sure, the Panthers had a bad stretch. But it's over now. And I sincerely apologize to whichever team might have their team ruined by them.