As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 30-3 (16-2 MVC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 113.8 (15th)/93.2 (16th)
Seed: East No. 5
Impact player: Seth Tuttle, senior forward. 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 119.4 offensive rating
The Case For: If you’ve seen Tuttle play, you know why the Panthers could make a deep run. Praised for his basketball IQ, feel for the game and work ethic, the 6’8” senior forward can do it all, including will UNI to wins. Playing in a mid-major conference could be an advantage, too: Tuttle hasn’t been beat up physically by Power Five opponents all season, so he’s fresher than his counterparts. Bottom line, he’s one of the best big men in the country.
Tuttle and point guard Deon Mitchell (7.4 points, 2.0 rebounds) are four-year starters for UNI, so there’s not much they haven’t seen. They won’t get rattled, and have experience with big wins, like their Jan. 31 70-54 victory over Wichita State. (They also took mid-major power VCU to double overtime on Dec. 13 before losing 93-87.) UNI is balanced, too, with eight players who score five points or more. Their defense holds teams to just 54.3 points per game, fourth best in the country.
The Case Against: It’s tough to know how UNI will perform under pressure. In their biggest game this season, a rematch at Wichita State on Feb. 28, Northern Iowa wilted, losing 74-60 in a contest the Shockers controlled for most of 40 minutes. They didn’t meet a third time, because Wichita State got upset in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, which means UNI hasn’t been tested lately. Their strength of schedule ranks 138th.
The Panthers are balanced, but can be overly reliant on Tuttle. They don’t score much offensively, averaging just 65.4 points per game. (Kenpom.com has them ranked 15th in offensive efficiency, though). In the MVC tournament final, Northern Iowa fell behind 33-15 to Illinois State before clawing back; that's a lot harder to do in the NCAA tournament. Tuttle & Co. are experienced, but only within the MVC; none of these players have played in March Madness and their last trip to the NIT was 2012, when Tuttle was a freshman. Can they handle the big stage?