There has rarely been a contest in the Missouri Valley Conference as exciting and as relevant as this at this time of year. The Northern Iowa Panthers and the Wichita State Shockers come face-to-face in a contest to decide the regular season conference championship, a game against the #10 and #11 ranked teams nationally, and a game that should be an exhibition of college basketball at its very best.
Each team is 16-1 in conference play, the Panthers own a 27-2 record overall and the Shockers are 26-3. Both teams are expected to get pretty solid seedings in March Madness this March and both will be very competitive in that tournament. For now, their focus will be on the first prize available. A Missouri Valley regular season conference championship.
Northern Iowa have hardly put a foot wrong all season long. They lost in double overtime to VCU and a somewhat inexplicable road defeat against Evansville. They avenged that loss earlier this week with a 68-57 win. They are not a dynamic offensive team, but they take good shots and play at a pretty high efficiency ranking. They do their damage as one of college basketball’s elite defensive teams. They have the ability to pressure and disrupt just about any offense and their 53.9 average points per game allowed is a fair reflection of a team that doesn’t give much up.
Most of the Panthers’ success can be put down to being a solid team, but there is one player at the center of it all and that’s Seth Tuttle. The senior forward leads the team in just about every statistical category averaging 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He asserts himself in basketball games and plays an important role in close games and also in ensuring that Northern Iowa does score enough points to win basketball games.
Playing Wichita State will be no easy task. The Shockers won’t have forgotten the feeling of a frustrating and weak effort getting blown out 70-54 on January 31, but this game is on home court, where the Shockers are aiming for a 32nd consecutive victory.
This isn’t the same team that made a strong run to go unbeaten in all college basketball last season and eventually occupied one of the top seeds in the NCAA tournament, but they might be just as dangerous. This team has size and skill, and they play a strong defensive game under head coach Gregg Marshall.
Wichita’s leaders are returnees from the disappointment of a second round tournament loss against the eventual champion Kentucky Wildcats last year. Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter have formed the core of a strong starting lineup. Baker is the key piece offensively taking the big shots and averaging 15.2 points per game.
Betting Preview: Northern Iowa (+6) at Wichita State
Six points isn’t a lot, but this has the makings of class and very tight game. Neither team gives up much defensively, but the Shockers might have the more difficult time matching up against a Northern Iowa team that has diverse secondary scoring options behind Tuttle. Expect Wichita State to eventually edge out the victory, but it will be closer than six points.
The Pick: Northern Iowa (+6) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 28-21