Illinois State (15-12) at Northern Iowa (13-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, February 23, 5 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: McLeod Center (6,650) -- Cedar Falls, Iowa. Television: MVC-TV, ESPN3.com. Home Record: ISU 11-3, UNI 9-2. Away Record: ISU 3-8, UNI 2-10. Neutral Record: ISU 1-1, UNI 2-2. Conference Record: ISU 8-7, UNI 7-8. Series Record: Illinois State leads, 37-28.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Iowa Panthers kick off their final week of the regular season on Sunday, as they host the Illinois State Redbirds in a Missouri Valley Conference clash at the McLeod Center.
All told, it has been a rather forgettable campaign for Northern Iowa, which is a middling 13-14 overall, including a 7-8 record against the rest of the MVC. The Panthers have lost four of their last six games, and they will host Southern Illinois on Wednesday before playing the regular-season finale at Indiana State.
There are also only three games remaining for Illinois State, which has its last home game of the campaign on Wednesday against Indiana State. The Redbirds have been just a bit better than the Panthers this season, with marks of 15-12 overall and 8-7 in conference. They have also won four of their last six games, although they have dropped four straight on the road.
On Feb. 5, these teams met at Redbird Arena, with Illinois State defending its home floor by taking a 76-65 decision. The Redbirds have won three of the last five meetings with the Panthers, pushing their all-time series lead to 37-28.
Illinois State pulled out a hard-earned 67-63 victory over Missouri State in its last contest. The Redbirds outscored the Bears, 25-15, off turnovers, while doubling them up at the free-throw line (25-12). Daishon Knight scored 17 points to lead all five starters in double figures.
The Redbirds have been an inconsistent offensive team this season, as they rarely shoot at an efficient rate from the floor. They are last in the MVC in field goal percentage (.410), while averaging an even 70 ppg. Knight (13.2 ppg) leads the way, but he has been part of the issue in shooting, netting just 37.2 percent of his chances from the field overall. Bobby Hunter (11 ppg) finishes at a better rate, knocking down just under 50 percent. Zach Lofton (10.1 ppg) provides some additional firepower. Hunter had 14 points against Missouri State, but Lofton only managed three.
Northern Iowa dropped a 70-69 decision at Drake in its most recent outing. The Panthers only connected on 37.9 percent of their shots from the floor, but remained competitive by forcing twice as many turnovers (14) as they committed (seven).
Despite shooting a mediocre 45.3 percent from the floor, the Panthers are the second-best scoring team in the MVC (73.4 ppg). Northern Iowa's offensive success derives from its ability to share the ball, as it is second in the conference in assists (13.9 apg). Seth Tuttle (14.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg) leads the way as the team's top scorer and rebounder. He finished with a game-high 20 points in the loss to Drake, his second straight 20-point effort. Deon Mitchell (12.7 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Nate Buss (10.9 ppg) also generate offense for the Panthers.
UNI is a strong team at home, with nine wins in 11 chances. Meanwhile, the Redbirds have struggled on the road (3-8). As long as Tuttle plays to his normal standard, the Panthers should treat their fans to a victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Iowa 73, Illinois State 68
02/23 10:16:33 ET