Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.
O26 Team of the Week
Northern Iowa. The Panthers beat Southern Illinois last Wednesday, 59-52, which was a nice MVC road victory; but let’s be honest – this league is all about the Shockers. While plenty of folks figured Northern Iowa could defeat Wichita State (they were in fact slight favorites by KenPom), I’m not sure anyone thought Ben Jacobson’s group would manhandle the reigning Missouri Valley champs. After trading baskets for the opening 10 minutes, the Panthers spent the final 30 minutes of game time pummeling a team that hadn’t been pummeled in a long, long time. In fact, Wichita State had not lost an MVC contest since the 2013 league championship game against Creighton, racking up 27 straight regular season conference victories entering Saturday. So it goes without saying that Northern Iowa’s performance – a 70-54 beatdown – was something special. Trailing by two with 9:50 left in the first half, the Panthers used stifling defense and an energetic home crowd to close out the period on a 21-6 run, confronting the Shockers with their largest deficit since January 11, 2014. And even though Wichita State had won 12 games in a row when trailing at the break, they were simply overmatched this time around; Northern Iowa began the second-half on another 8-2 spurt to open up an insurmountable 19-point lead. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were unable to find consistent looks against the home team’s stingy pack-line defense – now the 17th most efficient in college basketball – and Northern Iowa senior Seth Tuttle had the game of his career, scoring 29 points against the Shockers’ usually-tough interior. How did the Panthers dominate Wichita State so thoroughly? Perhaps it was a matter of expectations. “We didn’t really talk about coming in and beating them by one or two,” Tuttle said afterwards. “We talked about coming in here and beating them by 15.” Northern Iowa is now projected as a #5 seed in multiple mock brackets and has a real shot to win the league. February 28 – the return match-up in Wichita – looms large. But for now, the Panthers are our Team of the Week.
Honorable Mentions: Richmond (2-0: vs. Duquesne, at VCU); William & Mary (2-0: vs. Hofstra, at James Madison); Pepperdine (2-0: at Pacific, at Saint Mary’s); Albany (2-0: at Vermont, at Maine); Radford (2-0: at Charleston Southern, vs. Radford); USC-Upstate (2-0: at Jacksonville, at North Florida)