After No. 7 Wichita State went unbeaten through its non-conference schedule, many national pundits were predicting the Shockers to make it to the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record. Needless to say, there were a few teams in the Missouri Valley Conference taking exception to such predictions. One of those was likely Northern Iowa, which despite a .500 record in non-conference play, has been one of the better teams in the league this year, taking unbeaten Iowa State to overtime on the road and winning four of five heading into Sunday's matchup with the Shockers.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall knows better than to take any conference rival lightly, and he's saying all the right things in respect to league opponents. The fact that the Panthers were one of the teams to beat the Shockers last year will certainly have Marshall making sure his team doesn't take them lightly in this one. The Shockers' emphasis on defense - they give up a league-best 62.4 points a game - will help them against any opponent, no matter how well the team is playing on the offensive end.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, ESPN3
ABOUT NORTHERN IOWA (7-6, 1-0 MVC): The Panthers have seen flashes of Seth Tuttle's potential over the past two seasons, but now they're hoping that his top-notch play is going to come more consistently. Tuttle, a 6-8 junior forward, is averaging a team-best 13.5 points and a league-high 7.9 rebounds, and he's been even more active on the interior over the last few games. "His play has improved every 2 1/2 weeks," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. "He got off to a slow start. His activity level has increased at both ends of the floor. He's proven he can play at a high level in this league."
ABOUT WICHITA STATE (14-0, 1-0): One thing that Marshall points to as an improvement of this team over last year's squad which reached the Final Four is the ballhandling. The 2012-13 team could be prone to turnovers, while this year's squad seems to be more careful with the basketball. "This groups plays a little smarter than that group at times," Marshall told the Wichita Eagle. "If you don't turn the ball over and you get a good shot each time, it's hard to let a team go on an 18-0 run. We turned the ball over last year. Not only did we not score for a long time, we didn't even get shots."
1. Northern Iowa has faced Wichita State twice when the Shockers were nationally ranked and won both meetings.
2. The Panthers' 72.3 points per game is their highest average since the 1995-96 squad averaged 77.2 points.
3. The Shockers can establish a school record for consecutive wins with their 15th straight.
PREDICTION: Wichita State 75, Northern Iowa 68