Cedar Rapids, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - Having seemingly turned a corner in the last week or so, the Drake Bulldogs put their three-game win streak on the line against the 14th-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers on Saturday night.
The Missouri Valley Conference rivals couldn't be enjoying more diametrically opposed seasons however, as Drake comes in at 7-16 overall and 4-7 in league play, while Northern Iowa is a stellar 21-2, and owns a 10-1 conference mark.
As mentioned, the Bulldogs have won their last three games, although victories over Bradley (69-57) and Southern Illinois (63-61) have to be taken with a grain of salt when you consider those two teams are tied for last place in the MVC standings. Still, it's progress for the Bulldogs, who had won only once in their previous eight games, and a mere four times in their first 20.
As for Northern Iowa, it is in the midst of a 10-game win streak, and that includes a 70-54 victory over its closest conference rival, Wichita State, last Saturday. Since then, the Panthers have also topped Indiana State on the road, 61-51. UNI is 11-0 at home this season, and poised to potentially run the table and set itself up nicely for a favorable seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
These two teams met on Drake's home court on Jan. 10, and the Panthers blew out the Bulldogs in a 64-40 final. UNI shot nearly 60 percent from the field, and got double-digit scoring efforts from Jeremy Morgan (15 points), Deon Mitchell (14) and Seth Tuttle (12). For Drake, Reed Timmer led the way with 13 points, and the team as a whole made good on only 35 percent of its total shots, including a mere 3-of-17 from 3-point range. The Bulldogs only secured 16 rebounds in the game, while being outscored in the paint, 26-12.
As a result, Northern Iowa has won 10 of the last 12 meetings to increase its lead in the all-time series to 40-25.
Timmer hit for 19 points, and Gary Ricks and Chris Caird chipped in with 12 apiece, as Drake slipped by Southern Illinois on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs shot 42.9 percent from the floor, but were much better from beyond the arc, draining 13-of-23 3-point tries. The Salukis nailed 10 treys of their own, but were outscored at the free-throw line by a 14-9 margin, and in bench points, 18-8.
For the season, Ricks (11.2 ppg) and Timmer (10.7 ppg) are the only ones averaging double figures in the scoring column for Drake, which generates a mere 59.3 ppg despite shooting 38.9 percent from distance and 74.0 percent at the charity stripe. Rebounding has been a major issue, as the Bulldogs pull down a mere 26.5 caroms per contest, and turnovers have also been a problem, with the team giving possessions away close to 14 times per outing, compared to 10 times for the opposition.
Northern Iowa (.412) didn't shoot the ball particularly well in its recent clash with Indiana State, but did a masterful job at the defensive end in thwarting the upset bid of the hometown Sycamores. ISU was held to 37.3 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 7-of-22 performance out on the perimeter, and the team was guilty of a dozen miscues which led to 12 points for the Panthers. UNI also won the battle in points in the paint (24-18) and bench scoring (24-15), while logging a 12-6 edge in points at the foul line, and a 34-30 rebounding advantage. Tuttle paced the team with 15 points, Morgan had 12 to go with nine boards, and Wes Washpun pitched in 10 points off the bench.
UNI's strength is its defensive prowess, as the team is permitting a paltry 54.5 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of only .377 overall and .303 from 3- point range. When facing the basket, the Panthers don't show much teeth in netting just 64.9 ppg, although they are shooting well (.479 overall, .390 3- point, .721 free-throw). Tuttle is the only one averaging double digits in the scoring column at the moment, as he turns in 15.7 ppg to go with club-best 6.8 rpg.