Northern Iowa (7-5) at Wichita State (11-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, December 30, 6 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Koch Arena (10,506) -- Wichita, Kansas. Television: MVC TV. Home Record: UNI 6-0, Wichita State 7-0. Away Record: UNI 1-1, Wichita State 2-1. Neutral Record: UNI 0-4, Wichita State 2-0. Conference Record: UNI 0-0, Wichita State 0-0. Series Record: Northern Iowa leads, 25-20.
GAME NOTES: The Wichita State Shockers will try to keep their perfect home record alive on Sunday, as they play host to the Northern Iowa Panthers in the Missouri Valley Conference opener for both teams.
UNI's season has been highlighted by its streaky play, having opened the year with a pair of three-game winning streaks with three straight losses sandwiched in between. The Panthers had dropped back-to-back games at Iowa (80-73) and UNLV (73-59) before rebounding with an impressive 82-75 home win over Saint Mary's. The bout with the Gaels was a back-and-forth battle for the first 30 minutes before the Panthers pulled away down the stretch thanks in large part to a 20-6 run. They shot 50 percent from the floor and had four players score in double figures, paced by 18 points from Seth Tuttle. Jake Koch stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal, while Anthony James (15 points) and Deon Mitchell (12 points) were also effective.
After opening the season with nine consecutive wins, Wichita State was able to sneak into the Top-25 at No. 23, but it promptly dropped from the rankings following a Dec. 13 loss at Tennessee (69-60). Since then however, the Shockers have reeled off two straight victories, most recently using a late run to overcome an eight-point second half deficit to defeat Southern Miss, 59-51. It was poor shooting night for WSU, as it made just 19-of-50 from the field (including 4-of-19 from 3-point range), but the team was aided by a 17- of-25 showing at the foul line, and earned extra possessions by winning the rebounding battle, 44-26. Demetric Williams scored 17 points, Nick Wiggins tallied 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench, and Cleanthony Early added 10 points and three blocks.
UNI holds a 25-20 advantage in the all-time series with WSU, and the teams have split the last six matchups at Koch Arena.
The Panthers own a plus-6.2 scoring margin by out-shooting their opponents, 44.5 percent to 40.8 percent, while also making 75.5 percent of their foul shots. Mitchell averages 12.4 ppg to pace the squad, making more than 50 percent of his field goal attempts and handing out nearly four assists per contest in the process. James chips in 10.8 ppg, and Tuttle (10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Koch (10.3 ppg. 6.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 0.8 spg) are both multifaceted performers. Marc Sonnen (9.8 ppg) comes in just shy of giving UNI five starters who average double figures in points.
Wichita State has been strong in nearly every aspect of the game this season, shooting 45.1 percent from the field in netting 70.3 ppg, while holding opponents to 38.4 shooting for 58.3 ppg. It wins both the rebounding (plus-8.6) and turnover (plus-1.2) battles as well. Carl Hall is both the team's leading scorer (13.9 ppg) and rebounder (7.6 rpg), but he has missed the last two games and is expected to be out a few more weeks while recovering from a hand injury. In his absence, Early (13.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) takes over as the go-to guy, with Williams (8.2 ppg) and Malcolm Armstead (7.5 ppg) also playing larger roles.
The Shockers' scoring output has suffered in the last two games without Hall, and without a bona fide shooter to step in as the primary option they will continue to struggle from the field. Still, with a great defensive game plan and the home crowd on its side, Wichita State has enough talent to win its MVC opener against a streaky UNI squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wichita State 65, Northern Iowa 59
12/30 11:04:56 ET