Sunday February 1st, 2015

For the previous 27 games, Wichita State had decimated its Missouri Valley Conference opponents, winning by an average margin of 13.1 points. Only once did the Shockers even need overtime to take a team down. And then came Saturday. Wichita State’s matchup with Northern Iowa was dubbed the “Poll Bowl” because it was the first time two ranked MVC teams had faced off since 1982.

It turned out to be one-sided, but this time, it wasn’t in Wichita State’s favor. Behind Seth Tuttle’s career-high 29 points, UNI whooped Wichita 70-54. The win puts the Panthers and the Shockers in a tie for first place in the conference with eight games to go in the regular season. It also gives the teams nearly identical NCAA tournament resumes. Both have a road loss against a ranked non-conference opponent (UNI lost in double-overtime at VCU and Wichita lost in overtime at Utah) and a road conference loss (UNI lost to Evansville on New Year’s Day).

To win this one, Tuttle and the Panthers exposed the biggest weakness of this year’s Shockers: post defense. After losing Cleanthony Early to the NBA draft, the Shockers have leaned on Darius Carter as their primary force in the paint. The problem? He’s only 6-foot-7, and he has trouble defending post players of even similar size. Tuttle took advantage by driving past Carter twice to start the game, then stepping outside for a three to score UNI’s first seven points. The Shockers tried switching freshman Shaquille Morris onto Tuttle early, but he (13 minutes) and Carter (17 minutes) struggled to stay on the court because of foul trouble.

Thirteen Wichita players got into the game, but none had answers on either end of the floor. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, the guards who typically carry the Shockers on their shoulders, combined to shoot 8 for 22 from the floor.

The game got out of hand early. Midway through the first half, with the game tied at 18, Nate Buss and Matt Bohanan hit threes on consecutive possessions, and the Panthers finished the first half on a 21-3 run.

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UNI’s offensive performance bumped the school up 15 spots on KenPom.com’s offensive ratings. The Panthers entered the game with the 54th-best offensive efficiency in the country, and are now listed at No. 39. In the game, they shot 57.6 percent from the floor, and 71.4 percent (5 of 7) from three. Tuttle, who used 42 percent of UNI’s possessions during the game, finished with an offensive rating of 144.

"We didn't expect to come in here and beat them the way we did, I guess," Tuttle said after the game. "They are a great team. But we really didn't talk about beating them by one or two. We talked about coming in here and beating them by 15. That was our mindset.”

It was the mindset of Wichita, too, during its 27-game winning streak. Now the Shockers will have to regroup and avoid any pitfalls until Feb. 28, when they host UNI in the final game of the regular season.

When these teams meet again, the game may not have a cute nickname like it did today, but it will be the most significant game in the conference in recent memory. The Missouri Valley still goes through Wichita, but this season, the Shockers will have to put up a serious fight.

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