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UNI's Jacobson: 'We Should've Been In The NIT'

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa Ben Jacobson stepped the podium armed with the knowledge that the people he faced were ready to fire questions at him. So why waste any time?

"How about we just start with questions today? I bet there are probably some good ones," the Northern Iowa head coach said a statement meant with laughter.

Jacobson knew they were coming. He had more than 15 hours since finding out the Panthers didn't qualify for the NIT, but the still had no answers.

"I don't know. We should've been in the NIT. I don't know that there is any two ways around that part of it," Jacobson said. "There were a couple of teams that got in that didn't do as much as we did over the course of the season."

At 18-14 the Panthers missed out on the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. They qualified for the College Insider Tournament - the CIT for short. UNI hosts North Dakota Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the McLeod Center in the first round of the postseason tourney.

It'll be the second time this season UNI hosts Jacobson's alma mater. The Panthers beat North Dakota 72-47 on Nov. 17.

"In November they did not have their leading scorer," Jacobson said. "So they're completely different with him."

He addressed the future, but the past kept coming up, more specifically an NIT snub.

"We had the kind of year that gets you into the NIT," Jacobson said. "And having 10 spots taken, that was probably one or two too many."

Ten regular season conference winners lost in their conference tournament and did not make the NCAA Tournament. That meant 10 teams automatically qualified for the NIT. With that, only 22 at-large berths remained.

Indiana State received one of those bids as the sixth seed and will play Iowa on Wednesday. The Sycamores finished fifth in the Missouri Valley, behind both UNI and Evansville, who are playing in the CIT. Indiana State boasted an impressive resume with wins over Ole Miss and Miami. It also swept UNI in the regular season.

"We beat Creighton. We beat Wichita (State). We beat St. Mary's; three teams that are in the NCAA Tournament," Jacobson said.

"There's three or four teams in the (NIT) that didn't beat anybody that was really good, or maybe beat one team that was really good. Those are the ones that I'm a little bit more disappointed that we weren't in ahead of."

Northern Iowa had chances to pick up similar statement wins against Louisville, Memphis or UNLV. It's non-conference strength of schedule ranked 20th in the nation. The Panthers joined Texas Southern as the only two teams with a non-conference SOS in the top 30 who did not make the NCAA Tournament or NIT.

The Panthers can also look to Jan. 26 when it led Indiana State with less than five second remaining before a foul led to a Sycamore win. They also led vs. Evansville with 31 seconds remaining. Jacobson pointed to the fact that MVC second-teamer Anthony James missed the second half against Denver and their game at Southern Illinois: both UNI losses.

At this point though, the questions, the ifs, and even the numbers can't change the past. All Northern Iowa can do is look forward.

"You guys don't want to hear me talk about those things," Jacobson said. "And I don't believe in those things, because when you talk about them, it sounds like an excuse."

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