It's a long season. Losses happen.
Keeping those two things in mind, what to make of Evansville beating Northern Iowa on Tuesday? When it comes to the NCAA tournament, are the Panthers a Sweet 16 team or are they simply fodder for an upset?
Stranger things have happened when it comes to conference road games, but this one's a tough pill to swallow. This was an Evansville team that had lost 14 straight games at one point and was just 1-15 in the Missouri Valley. Contrast to UNI -- 24-3, 14-2 entering the game.
In terms of efficiency margin, this was one of the year's biggest surprises. The Panthers outscore Mo Valley foes by .14 points per possession, while the Purple Aces give up .18 points per trip. A .32 point margin should be too great to overcome.
Yet – in front of a piddling 4,716 fans – they beat a ranked foe for the first time since 2003. (Shakes head.)
OK, so UNI was without senior center Jordan Eglseder, who was suspended three games for driving drunk. He'll be back for Saturday regular-season finale against Illinois State and for the MVC tourney. And the Panthers did beat ODU last week without him.
"I don't know that there is much to be fixed," UNI coach Ben Jacobson told the Des Moines Register. "I think we need two great days of practice in preparation for Illinois State. There isn't anything broken…Evansville played a good basketball game, and they deserve credit for winning."
Still, it'll make me think twice about taking Northern Iowa very far in the NCAA tournament.
It's a team built around defense and everyone playing their role. They don't push the pace, and they keep teams off the offensive glass and the free-throw line. In short, you have to work to get your points against them.
I just wish that offense was capable of scoring in bunches. UNI's an average-shooting team that doesn't get many offensive rebounds and lacks a go-to scorer. When they fall behind in the Big Dance, how will they keep up?
Maybe they won't have to if they face teams like FSU or Illinois or Dayton in the early rounds. But ideal matchups like that may be too much to hope for.
Mike Miller's also on Twitter, usually talkin' hoops. Click here for more.