Wichita, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - With the regular-season title in the Missouri Valley Conference up for grabs, the 10th-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers battle the 11th-ranked Wichita State Shockers in one of the most anticipated games in league history.
The Panthers are enjoying a school-record 16-game winning streak, which happens to be the fourth-longest active win streak in all of Division I. Since losing to Evansville in the conference opener, UNI has been untouchable, claiming eight straight decisions by double figures in order to keep pace with WSU at the top of the standings.
Three nights ago, the Panthers were able to exact revenge on the Purple Aces with a 68-57 triumph at home, moving the program to 16-1 in conference play in the process.
As for the Shockers, the defending champions in the MVC, they are seeking their ninth league title since becoming a member back in 1946. More recently, the team has celebrated the championship two of the last three seasons and are now shooting for back-to-back crowns for the first time in five decades.
Wichita State has just a single setback since the start of the 2015 calendar year and is enjoying a seven-game win streak with the conference tournament ready to tip off next weekend. Similar to UNI, the Shockers have also been winning games in convincing fashion, the latest being a 63-53 final over Indiana State on the road on Wednesday night.
UNI clings to a 26-24 advantage in the all-time series with the Shockers, taking the first meeting of the campaign late last month, 70-54, in the first MVC clash between two nationally-ranked programs in 33 years.
The Panthers jumped all over Evansville by hitting 8-of-15 shots behind the 3- point line in the first half, establishing a double-digit lead at the break and then playing close to even the rest of the way. Deon Mitchell made good on all five of his field goal tries as he finished with 17 points, followed by Paul Jesperson and Seth Tuttle with 11 and 10 points, respectively, the latter also clearing a team-best eight rebounds for a unit that survived with only two offensive rebounds on the night.
Tuttle might not get the attention that some of his Wichita State counterparts have from a national perspective, but those in the know around the Missouri Valley are well aware of his talents. In conference play, he is the lone double-digit scorer for the Panthers with 16.7 ppg, thanks to a sizzling 62.7 percent shooting from the floor. He is also tops with 6.9 rpg and has handed out a team-best 54 assists, proving their is almost nothing he can't or won't do to keep UNI riding high.
The Shockers have certainly had more comfortable win in conference play this season, but the bottom line is that the team was again able to pick up a victory while being in the cross hairs of every opponent. Darius Carter stepped up and recorded a double-double for WSU, hitting for 20 points and pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds at the Hulman Center, followed by Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton with 15 and 12 points, respectively, for a squad that shot only 2-of-17 behind the 3-point line.
An important note from the latest win against Indiana State on the road is that the Shockers were able to get the job done even as Ron Baker missed all but one of his 11 field goal chances and finished with a mere three points in 36 minutes of action. Despite the disastrous effort, Baker still leads Wichita State in scoring against MVC foes, putting up 14.2 ppg on the strength of 40.9 percent shooting beyond the arc. VanVleet checks in with another 13.0 ppg, but it is his passing (90 assists) that makes him a candidate for player of the year honors.