Gameday update: Northern Iowa at No. 25 Wichita State

Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun is tied with Fred VanVleet atop the MVC assists chart. Both average 5.7.
Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun is tied with Fred VanVleet atop the MVC assists chart. Both average 5.7. The Wichita Eagle

▪  Northern Iowa went through a nasty offensive slump early in MVC play, forcing coach Ben Jacobson to make changes. A 51-41 loss to Loyola at home, part of four-game losing streak, represented rock bottom.

Instead of starting most possessions with guard Wes Washpun operating off a screen near the top of the key, UNI is running more motion offense. Those changes helped the Panthers on this five-game win streak.

“We got really one-dimensional, where Wes is standing at the top of the floor and the entire defense is looking at him,” Jacobson said. “And the entire defense is ready to make its rotations and they would have practiced it. For two days of practice, they’re sitting there figuring out how they want to guard that.”

The Panthers are passing and moving more, putting the ball in the hands of players such as Matt Bohannon, Jeremy Morgan and Paul Jesperson. Bohannon has scored in double figures in seven straight games, including 19 against Missouri State on Wednesday. Morgan set his career high with 21 against MSU.

“Bohannan’s getting a chance to move around some more, getting a chance to touch the basketball a little bit more instead of just standing in the corner while Wes is using a ball-screen,” Jacobson said.

Washpun can still start plays off screens. His quickness makes that play dangerous, even if it is no longer UNI’s primary option. He averages 5.7 assists, tied with Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet atop the MVC.

“You’ve got to prepare for both,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It’s good motion, but it’s what we do, what we try to do every day so we hopefully know how to guard it.”

▪  The Shockers practiced Friday morning from 10 to 11:30 to simulate Saturday’s early start and give the players sufficient recovery time.

WSU often shortens practice time in recent days, or reduces the workload on the top of the rotation. With 17 healthy players, the Shockers can scrimmage and drill with its younger players and get work in while players such as Ron Baker are watching or doing less-taxing drills.

▪  The VanVleet-Washpun matchup has an important subplot.

VanVleet is trying to lead the MVC in assists for a third straight season.

He can become the fourth player to lead the MVC in three straight seasons, the first since Illinois State’s Jamar Smiley from 1995-98.

▪  The Shockers have 24 straight regular-season MVC home victories. The Shockers won 25 in a row from 1982-85.

Northern Iowa at No. 25 Wichita State

  • When: 11 a.m. Saturday
  • Where: Koch Arena
  • Records: UNI 15-11, 7-6 MVC; WSU 18-6, 12-1
  • Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
  • TV: ESPN2 (Rich Hollenberg, Mark Adams)