Gameday update: MVC Tournament semifinals

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet and the Shockers split the past four meetings with Northern Iowa.
Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet and the Shockers split the past four meetings with Northern Iowa.

No. 4 Northern Iowa (20-12) vs. No. 1 Wichita State (24-7), 2:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

▪  The Panthers are a scary opponent because they exploit WSU’s weak spot, one the the Shockers can cover up against most teams.

The Shockers rank No. 226 nationally in three-point percentage at 33.7. They rank sixth in MVC play at 33.8. As a weak spot, it’s not debilitating. WSU leads the MVC in scoring (76) in conference play and offensive efficiency (1.14 points per possession), according to Ken Pomeroy.

UNI is a tough matchup because it doesn’t turn the ball over, robbing the Shockers of the easy shots it uses to score when its threes aren’t falling. WSU leads the MVC in turnovers forced (23 percent of possessions).

UNI is second behind WSU in not turning the ball over (14.5 percent).

So, just like against the Shockers, UNI’s opponents are walking the ball up to face an organized defense almost every time. Teams can shoot the ball well from three-point range against UNI, 35.3 percent, which ranks seventh.

That is critical, because other points are scarce.

UNI allows teams to shoot 45 percent from two-point range, third in the MVC. It rarely fouls. For the season, the Panthers are outscoring opponents by 107 points at the line. UNI outscored WSU 15-14 in the first meeting, a Shockers win. In the second meeting, UNU outscored WSU 8-3 at the line.

▪  WSU shot a season-low 30.3 percent and scored a season-low 50 points in the loss to the Panthers. A stretch of 10 scoreless possessions with the game tied 44-all ruined WSU’s rally. The Shockers rallied by scoring early in the shot clock, four straight trips where it didn’t reach 20.

It will be interesting to see if the Shockers can generate those kind of chances again to beat UNI’s defense before it has a chance to get set.

▪  That 53-50 loss also turned on a 10-0 run that ended the first half for the Panthers. UNI coach Ben Jacobson pounced on mismatches to send Klint Carlson against WSU’s Rashard Kelly and Rauno Nurger, who played because of foul trouble. Carlson scored eight of those points to build a 38-27 lead.

▪  Guard Wes Washpun makes the Panthers go and he played a superb end-game on offense and defense in Friday’s win over Southern Illinois. The Shockers do a good job on Washpun, turning him into an inefficient scorer in recent meetings.

He is 16 of 43 (37.2 percent) from the field and 4 of 11 from three-point range with 13 assists and 13 turnovers in the past four games.

Ken Pomeroy says: WSU 65-57 (82 percent chance of winning)

No. 6 Indiana State (15-16) vs. No. 2 Evansville (24-8), 5 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

▪  The Sycamores needed a March refresh and got it with a 65-56 win over No. 3 Indiana State. After a day of close calls by the favorites, Indiana State grabbed Friday’s lone upset.

“These guys have some pride, they have some togetherness, they have some toughness to them,” Sycamores coach Greg Lansing said. “We talked a lot about, hey, it's a new season coming in. In postseason, there's a lot of good teams going at it. You saw the close scores in the other games. It's the team that follows the game plan the best.”

Indiana State lost six of seven games entering the tournament. It created a great defensive plan Friday and the Redbirds panicked just enough to make it work, missing 24 of 33 threes and, as coach Dan Muller described it, playing like a five-point deficit was 15. Pressured by a helping, active man-to-man that aimed to cut off driving lanes, the Redbirds shot poorly and committed 16 turnovers, nine on Sycamores steals.

Indiana State will need another similar defensive effort and they might be able to use some of the same tactics. The Aces are a reasonably efficient scoring team (fourth in the MVC, 132nd nationally). They aren’t a great outside shooting team. If the Sycamores can gum up Evansville’ motion offense and force the Aces to shoot threes, it’s helpful.

It will, however, be harder to rattle the Aces than it was the Redbirds.

▪  Indiana State routed the Aces 82-65 on Jan. 24, which Ken Pomeroy’s stats judge as its best offensive performance of the season (1.21 points per possession),a best effective field-goal percentage game (59.8). The Sycamores made 14 of 23 threes with guard Brenton Scott making 6 of 9.

▪  Foul shots may decide this game. Both teams get to the line a lot, ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in free throw rate. No. 1 Evansville, however, rarely fouls, ranking second in the rate of opponent foul shots. Indiana State ranks ninth. The Sycamores must cut down on their fouls.

Ken Pomeroy says: Evansville 73-67 (71 percent chance of winning)

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop


When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Records: UNI 20-12, WSU 24-7

Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM

TV: CBSSN (Cox 260, DirecTV 221, Dish 158, U-Verse 643)