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Pregame update: No. 12 Wichita State at No. 18 Northern Iowa

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet and Northern Iowa center Seth Tuttle take the stage in Saturday’s 3 p.m. game.
Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet and Northern Iowa center Seth Tuttle take the stage in Saturday’s 3 p.m. game. The Wichita Eagle

▪  Seth Tuttle is the key part of UNI’s game. His offensive versatility, smooth footwork and passing chops make him one of the MVC’s best.

The second critical player may be guard Wes Washpun, who comes off the bench to give the Panthers a jolt of energy. Washpun averages 8.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He leads UNI with 25 steals and 14 blocks. Along with Deon Mitchell, he gives UNI two good point guards who can spend all game defending WSU’s Fred VanVleet.

▪  WSU’s Darius Carter is ready to go and his back hasn’t been a problem in practices since Wednesday’s game. Carter and Tuttle are similar in many respects, more footwork, moves and finesse than bulk and power. Avoiding fouls will be key for both.

▪  Is there anything to be learned from UNI’s 52-49 loss at Evansville on Jan. 1?

The Aces outscored the Panthers 19-6 at the foul line, which is an unlikely advantage for WSU to grab on the road. Tuttle played 32 minutes, but had five fouls. The Shockers can sometimes get big men in foul trouble by running ball screens and forcing the big to deal with VanVleet, who knows how to draw fouls. It works well against slower big men. Tuttle is agile and experienced enough to handlle that strategy.

The Aces grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to UNI’s three. The Panthers don’t need a bunch of offensive rebounds to win and they will probably lean toward sending three or four players back on defense to keep WSU from running. Their offensive rebounding percentage ranks near the bottom of the nation, according to kenpom.com.

The Panthers needed to rally to beat Illinois State 54-53 and the Redbirds also enjoyed a healthy edge on the offensive boards — 16-5. The Redbirds extended their defense and they forced 16 turnovers, five more than UNI’s average.

Illinois State built a 46-34 lead (forcing UNI to switch to zone) doing the kind of things WSU will need. It made some long threes, it forced turnovers and it had some success getting the ball inside to center Reggie Lynch, who made quick, decisive move before UNI’s defense surrounded him to draw a charge.

▪  When coaches say “You have to make shots” to beat the Panthers, it sound silly. What they mean is that UNI keeps its defense largely inside the three-point line to stop drives and give help. If a team can make a few threes, especially a few a step or two behind the line, it can force the Panthers to extend and loosen up in the middle of the lane.

Last season, UNI gave WSU Tekele Cotton open shots. He made them. He may be put in that position again today. Sames goes for Evan Wessel.

UNI’s approach doesn’t mean the Panthers aren’t capable of rangy, athletic plays on defense. Washpun and sophomore Jeremy Morgan can create havoc with their steals and deflections.

From Grantland: A breakdown of UNI’s defense.

Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier: Big game is here.

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