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Northern Iowa Makes Another Statement On Road to MVC Title

Northern Iowa put together another stellar win, especially on the defensive end, as it shut down Loyola to move to 14-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Could the Panthers be headed for a deep NCAA Tournament run?

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Iowa shuts down Loyola

Seth Tuttle might be on his way to the MVC Player of the Year award (and All American status), and it won't necessarily be because he is scoring 16 points per game. It will be for all of the other things that he does on the basketball court, as was the case on Wednesday night against Loyola. Tuttle had 10 points, tied with Nate Buss for the team lead in a 58-39 win. And he led the team in every other category: rebounds, assists, steals, blocks (and turnovers, but hey, who's counting). The most impressive thing about the Northern Iowa win Wednesday was that they held Loyola to just 0.72 points per possession. You can't compete against that. The Panthers could have had a terrible shooting night (they didn't: 45.8 percent) and still could have won given that defensive performance. We have spent a lot of time looking at the combination of offense and defense and what that means for performance in the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers are now up to No. 11 overall in KenPom's rankings, and are 28th in offense and 16th in defense. Here are the teams that have that same top 30 profile in both categories: Kentucky, Virginia, Arizona, Utah, Gonzaga, Villanova, Kansas, Ohio State. With numbers like that, Northern Iowa looks to be a lock to be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, possibly as one of the final eight.

Missouri State Gets Back Win Over Indiana State

A result like this though could be the reason why you can't be so confident in Northern Iowa making it that far. Based on the great work over at the Bracket Matrix, Northern Iowa looks headed for a No. 5 seed by the consensus of the projections. It looks like Wichita State is headed there too. The reason? Good wins. The Panthers and Shockers are not getting a lot of help from inside the conference. Indiana State ran out to 5-0 in conference before falling back to 9-6 after losing to the Bears on Wednesday night. The Sycamores didn't have a stellar nonconference record, but at least being a team to push the two giants in the league would have been helpful to the league as a whole. The teams that Northern Iowa and Wichita State are competing with for seeding are getting those kinds of games in the closing stages of the conference season, and will continue to get them in their conference tournaments (even Gonzaga will have St. Mary's and BYU close to the top 50 in the RPI). A loss by Indiana State hurts, although probably not as bad as losses by Evansville or Illinois State would at this point.
Chris Kendrix scored 20 points for Missouri State and the Bears managed to not give Indiana State the looks they needed in the final minute to get the win. Indiana State freshman Brenton Scott scored 16 points in the loss.

Illinois State Dominates Bradley

If you had to pick a team to challenge the two heavyweights in the MVC Tournament, it would be Illinois State. The Redbirds dominated Bradley on Wednesday night in a 60-47 win. The reason why the Redbirds should be feared is its defense, especially on the interior. Reggie Lynch added five blocks to his conference-leading total in the win, bringing him to 72 on the season. He is averaging 2.9 swats per game, and is a major deterrent in the middle as he is putting aside 16.2 percent of the shots he sees when he is on the floor. A team like Wichita State which is deep but inexperienced inside is especially vulnerable to this, although they have the shooters on the perimeter who have the ability to overcome this deficiency. It is likely that this is still a two-horse race to the title, but you shouldn't be surprised if Illinois State makes some waves in St. Louis.

On the losing side, it might be time to worry about Geno Ford in Peoria. He is in his fourth season and has only managed a winning record overall once in that time, an 18-17 mark in 2012-13. The conference record has topped out at 7-11. He has done his best to piece together the Braves with transfers and JUCO players, but it isn't like the situation is getting any better on the recruiting front, and this version just isn't very good. Using a rotation that mostly featured six players on Wednesday, the Braves shot under 30 percent from the floor, and while Illinois State is a strong defensive team, it isn't Northern Iowa. It is never fun to speculate about a coach's job, but with Ford making between $500,000 and $600,000, the results haven't been there.