Wichita State vs. Northern Iowa: Does the Shockers’ Streak End Today?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 31st, 2015

Looking for something to tide you over before Duke-Virginia? Look no further than the Missouri Valley, where Northern Iowa hosts Wichita State in arguably the biggest O26 clash to date. Not only will it be the first matchup between ranked MVC teams since 1982, but the outcome could go a long way in determining the eventual league champion. Perhaps more importantly, each team will have an opportunity to notch a rare, in-conference resume booster just six weeks ahead of Selection Sunday. Oh, and did I mention that the Shockers’ 27-game conference winning streak hangs in the balance? With lots at stake and both teams projected as single-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament, this isn’t your average high-major undercard – it’s a heavyweight bout all on its own. Let’s take a look at why each team can win.

Why Northern Iowa Wins…

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers have what it takes to beat Wichita State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) )

Do Seth Tuttle and the Panthers have what it takes to beat Wichita State? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Home court advantage. The Panthers haven’t lost at home in almost a full calendar year, today in search of their 13th-straight victory in the McLeod Center. And while their last defeat in Cedar Falls did come at the hands of the Shockers – a nine point loss last February 8th – this will be the first time since the 2013 MVC title game that Wichita State actually enters a league contest as underdog; KenPom gives Northern Iowa the slight advantage (54%) this afternoon. Gregg Marshall’s bunch has exhibited steely nerves on the road plenty of times before, but keeping it together in front of a crowd that’s been sold out for a month and a half is easier said than done.
  • Defense. This may be oversimplifying things, but if Northern Iowa plays the level of defense it has for much of this season, it will be in great shape to win. The Panthers – currently boasting the 17th most efficient defense in college basketball – have allowed just five teams to score over one point per possession, playing a stifling brand of pack-line defense (with some other principles mixed in) that’s been incredibly difficult to penetrate in 2014-15. With Cleanthony Early no longer in the lineup, Wichita State might not have an athletic wing-type capable of attacking the lane and opening looks near the basket the way it did in 2013-14, especially if the Panthers stymy them in transition. Likewise, senior forward Seth Tuttle – in addition to his offensive prowess (15.1 PPG) – has been virtually immovable on the block this season, suffocating opposing big men and cleaning up the defensive glass (20.9% DReb). If Fred VanVleet can’t push the ball and Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton don’t hit outside shots, it might be a long afternoon for the Shockers.

  • Outside shooting. Northern Iowa scores the bulk of its points from beyond the arc and (uncharacteristically) at the charity stripe. And even though Wichita State does a pretty good job of defending without fouling, they have not been so good at running teams off the three-point line; after allowing opponents to shoot just 31 percent from deep in 2013-14, the Shockers are giving up 36.4 percent this year. In fact, the reigning MVC champions allowed Utah and George Washington to shoot a combined 18-for-36 3PT (50%) in their only two losses this season. That’s bad news against the Panthers, who shoot upwards of 38 percent from long range and have fewer players on their roster who don’t shoot well from the outside than those who do. Since they are so well-balanced – rarely reliant on just one or two guys – Wichita State can’t afford to be lax in its rotations or fall asleep on the perimeter.

Why Wichita State Wins…

Can Wichita State push past UNI for 28th-straight MVC victory? (Peter Aiken)

Can Wichita State push past UNI for 28th-straight MVC victory? (Peter Aiken)

  • Darius Carter. The Wichita State big man has been fighting through back pain recently, but after playing just six minutes against Loyola (IL) on Wednesday, he should be well rested (or, at least that’s the hope). When he’s healthy, the 6’7’’, 245-pound big man has enough muscle to score on Tuttle near the basket and potentially force the senior into foul trouble. More importantly, however, will be his expertise on the boards; Carter’s offensive and defensive rebounding rates are top-100 in the country this season. Northern Iowa simply does not crash the offensive glass, so if he cleans up Panther misses and notches several offensive rebounds of his own, second-chance points – both preventing them and creating them – could be Wichita State’s ticket to victory. Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius’ 13 rebounds (6 offensive) were instrumental in the Aces’ three point win over Northern Iowa on New Year’s Day.
  • Guard play. Let’s face it – this game’s best guards don the Black and Gold. Fred VanVleet is among the nation’s top floor generals, fresh off a 27-point outing against Loyola and currently posting a stellar 3.71 assist-to-turnover ratio (third-best in the NCAA) – the kind of ball-security that bodes well against quick-handed Panther guards like Wes Washpun. Ron Baker is one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the country, an excellent outside shooter (40.5% 3PT) with good size (6’4”), capable of getting to the rim as well as anyone in the Missouri Valley. And Tekele Cotton flashes high-level athleticism with a quality perimeter shot of his own. To boot, all three guys are quality defenders. If VanVleet takes care of the ball, pushes it up the floor and opens up looks in transition – before Northern Iowa can sink into its pack-line – the Shockers will have plenty scoring options this afternoon.
  • Gregg Marshall. The Panthers’ Ben Jacobson is a very good coach and showed as much last Sunday, but Marshall – along with tremendous basketball acumen – provides a fire and intensity that could be the difference in this game. With both defenses allowing next-to-nothing in 2014-15 – the Shockers, in their own right, have held opponents to under 60 points for seven straight games – today’s affair could turn into a close, who-wants-it-more type of grinder. Marshall seems to squeeze the most out of his players in games like that, his team elevating its level of play when the pressure cranks up. And even though Marshall’s chip-on-shoulder mentality doesn’t actually make sense here, I have a feeling the eighth-year head man will work it into his group’s collective conscience nonetheless.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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