In what was merely a formality, the Northern Iowa Panthers officially sewed up their bid to the NCAA Tournament by beating the upstart Illinois State Redbirds Sunday in the Missouri Valley Tournament championship.
With a 30-3 overall record, 16-2 mark in the conference and a KenPom RPI of 11, Northern Iowa did not have to worry about losing Sunday’s game, as they were securely in regardless of what happened. That said, several bubble clubs are forever thankful to the Panthers for getting it in gear in the second half and eventually sprinting past the Redbirds for a 69-60 win.
As one of the better mid-major squads in the country, you are probably well aware of the Panthers’ exploits. Coached by the vastly underrated Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa will be a team no one wants to face net week. The Panthers have taken on all challengers this season and only lost to VCU in double overtime, Evansville by three points and fellow MVC heavyweight Wichita State by 14 on the road. Conversely, the Panthers took down Stephen F. Austin, North Florida, Northwestern, Richmond, Iowa and Wichita State already this season.
This is a very efficient basketball team that values the basketball and one that constantly looks for the best shot. The Panthers are very methodical and cerebral in their approach to the game, as they preach patience on offense. They rank ninth in the NCAA with a team field-goal percentage of .487.
Leading the way for Northern Iowa is do-everything forward Seth Tuttle.
Tuttle leads the team in points (15.3 ppg), rebounds (6.7 rpg) and assists (3.3 apg). He also connects on a fabulous .623 of his field-goal attempts while connecting on .751 percent of his free throws and .450 of his three-point attempts. Tuttle is as well-rounded and complete a player as you will see in the NCAA Tournament. Suffice to say, he is capable of carrying this Panthers team far.
With the Panthers only averaging 65.3 points per game (230th in the country), the scoring is few and far between, although three players average between 7.2 and 7.8 points per game to complement Tuttle. Wes Washpun adds 7.8 points per game while Deon Mitchell and Nate Buss contribute 7.3 and 7.2 points per game, respectively.
Playing Northern Iowa in like engaging in a game of chess, as Jacobson is great at counteracting opposing teams’ moves. While not overly athletic, the Panthers play a smart brand of basketball. You better do your homework when prepping to play the Panthers.
With their stellar and nearly spotless resume, expect the Panthers to get a four or five seed on Selection Sunday. And I think it goes without saying that you can’t take Northern Iowa lightly, as they have what it takes to go on a bare-minimum Sweet 16 run.
Just remember Tuttle’s name. He just might be your new Ali Farokhmanesh.