Bradley (5-8) at Northern Iowa (6-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, January 1, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: McLeod Center (7,018) -- Cedar Falls, Iowa. Television: MVC-TV. Home Record: Bradley 5-3, UNI 4-0. Away Record: Bradley 0-3, UNI 0-4. Neutral Record: Bradley 0-2, UNI 2-2. Conference Record: Bradley 0-0, UNI 0-0. Series Record: Bradley leads, 27-23.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Iowa Panthers and the Bradley Braves are set for a New Year's Day showdown at the McLeod Center in the Missouri Valley Conference opener for both teams.
Although Bradley opened up the season with four straight victories, it has since fallen into a tailspin with just one win in its last nine outings. The Braves' campaign has reached new lows in recent weeks with six consecutive losses, including a 61-57 setback at home against South Florida on Saturday night.
As for UNI, it had an up-and-down experience in non-conference play, resulting in a 6-6 record. Things have been looking up for the Panthers of late, however, as they have won three of their last four games. They managed to take down Iona on Saturday, 90-78, to improve to 4-0 on their home floor.
After 50 all-time meetings between the squads, Bradley leads UNI by a 27-23 count. The Panthers have had the better of the Braves of late however, winning four in a row and 14 of the last 18.
The Braves endured a back-and-forth contest with USF in their most recent contest, experiencing eight ties and 10 lead changes, but after tying the game at 57 late in the game, the Bulls finished them off down the stretch as their losing streak continued. They shot a modest 42.3 percent from the floor but had a quiet night at the free-throw line (8-of-11) and lost the rebounding battle (34-28). Walt Lemon, Jr. was impressive on both ends of the floor with 17 points, seven assists and four steals, while Tyshon Pickett came off the bench to tally 16 points and eight assists.
On the season, Bradley does not possess a high-powered offense, as it shoots a modest 43 percent from the floor (including 28.1 percent from 3-point range) for 66.2 ppg, but luckily it has played stellar defense, allowing a mere 67.6 ppg. Lemon, Jr. leads the team in scoring with 15.1 ppg and swipes nearly two steals per contest, but he also has nearly as many turnovers (52) as assists (54). Pickett (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Auston Barnes (9.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) man the paint, while Omari Greer nets 12.3 ppg but on a lackluster 33.6 percent field goal shooting.
The Panthers had one of their most productive offensive outputs of the season in their 12-point triumph over Iona, as they tied their season high with 90 points, while shooting 51.7 percent from the field, including 12-of-26 from 3- point range. Deon Mitchell contributed four of those long-range buckets on his way to 20 points and also got his teammates involved with seven assists. Nate Buss registered 19 points and seven rebounds off the bench, Chip Rank netted 14 points and Seth Tuttle stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal.
UNI scores just slightly more (71.7 ppg) than its opponents (70.1 ppg) this season thanks to outshooting its adversaries from the field, 44 percent to 42.5 percent, which helps make up for its small disadvantages in rebounding (-0.4) and turnover (-0.6) margin. The team uses mostly a seven-man rotation, all of whom play at least 21 mpg and score at least 6.0 ppg. Mitchell leads the way with 13.6 ppg, with Tuttle (12.7 ppg) and Buss (11.8 ppg) hot on his heels. Tuttle also grabs a team-high 7.8 rpg, while Buss makes field goals at 60.2 percent efficiency.
With the Braves playing their worst basketball of the season of late and UNI showing outstanding promise on its home floor, expect the Panthers to dismiss Bradley on their way to a 1-0 start in the MVC.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Iowa 72, Bradley 65
01/01 10:31:49 ET