Northern Iowa Panthers: Trend or Mirage?

After a big victory over Wichita State, No. Iowa has been labeled by many as "the most dangerous team you've never heard of." (Photo credit to FoxSports)
After a big victory over Wichita State, No. Iowa has been labeled by many as “the most dangerous team you’ve never heard of.”
(Photo credit to FoxSports)

In 2010, the Panthers busted practically everyone’s bracket when they knocked off Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Fast-forward four years. Is Northern Iowa back?

The way things are trending, I wouldn’t put Northern Iowa as an eight or nine seed in the tournament. The Panthers are off to a blazing 20-2 start, and seem to only be getting hotter.

While they have had some close victories against average teams, they have also put a beating on Power Conference schools like Virginia Tech (19 points) and Northwestern (19 points). The Panthers most recent victory came on national television when they stifled the No. 12 Wichita State Shockers with suffocating defense, holding them to 35.4 percent shooting and won the game by 14 points.

Sure, they have had their slip-ups. They dropped a double-overtime game to VCU (at VCU) and lost a 16-point lead to the Evansville Purple Aces (in Evansville), but those things happen to every team, unless it’s Kentucky.

This team has strong inside play, led by senior Seth Tuttle. He is averaging 15.8 points per game and shooting 61.5 percent from the field. He is averaging an incredible 1.29 pure-points-per-shot (points scored on field goals/field goals attempted, I might have made it up?). Junior guard Wes Washpun is averaging 9.1 points per game, and is the only other Panther to average at least nine points.

Which brings to me what troubles me about this team.

The Panthers don’t score very well, despite a high field goal percentage (48.2) and they don’t shoot a high number of free throws. Northern Iowa has attempted 453 free throws this season, ranking it 146th in the country in attempts. The Panthers are only making 71.5 percent of those attempts, ranking it 91st in the Division I.

Why does that trouble me?

If a team isn’t getting to the line a lot and is only making a little more than seven out of ten, on average, winning close games in the NCAA Tournament is going to be even more difficult.

But one thing I really, really, really like about the Panthers is that they play defense without fouling. They commit 15.6 fouls per game, and have only committed 344 fouls on the season (that ranks them 300th in fouls committed). That might not seem like a huge deal, but when ‘March Madness’ rolls around, fouling becomes a big deal.

No. Iowa’s roster is a unique blend of players. Of the nine players who have played in all 22 games, four seniors play 47 percent of the team’s minutes. Three juniors record 34 percent of the minutes, and one sophomore and one freshman play a little more than 18.6 percent of the minutes. Six players average at least 20 minutes per game, and seven players average between four and seven points per game.

They have pretty good balance.

I should also note that the Panthers are a good three-point shooting team. They are connecting on 39 percent of their attempts.

But, again, they don’t attempt very many (367 attempts, 147 makes).

The remaining part of Northern Iowa’s schedule shouldn’t be too difficult. The Panthers have a rematch against Evansville at the end of the month, and then will travel to Wichita to close out the regular season.

What do you think about the Panthers? Could they pose a real threat to a highly seeded Power Conference team come March?


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