While many have already conceded the Missouri Valley race to No. 12 Wichita State, an understandable position to take given the talent that Gregg Marshall returns and how the Shockers ran through the league last season, that mindset isn’t shared by the nine teams that enter the 2014-15 season with hopes of dethroning the reigning champs. The team best equipped to challenge Wichita State may be Northern Iowa, as head coach Ben Jacobson returns all five starters from last year’s team.
Saturday afternoon the Panthers began their season with a game against North Dakota, winning by the final score of 64-52 with Jacobson making history as a result. The win is Jacobson’s 167th at UNI, pushing him past O.M. “Hon” Nordly into first place on the school’s all-time wins list.
All-MVC forward Seth Tuttle led the way for UNI, accounting for 24 points and nine rebounds despite dealing with some foul trouble and committing five turnovers. In total three Panthers scored in double figures, with Wes Washpun adding 15 points and Nate Buss 12 off the bench, and nine players played at least ten minutes.
The combination of a Tuttle-led offensive attack and depth will be the keys for UNI this season, as they look to rebound from a season in which they finished 16-15 overall (10-8 MVC). UNI received 30 points from its bench Saturday, and reserves such as Washpun, Buss, Paul Jesperson and Wyatt Lohaus are all talented enough to contribute consistently.
If they can do that, UNI should emerge as Wichita State’s biggest challenger as the season wears on.