5. Northern Iowa (30-3, 16-2/Missouri Valley)–Northern Iowa became one of the stories of the year in college basketball as it cruised through the Missouri Valley at 30-3, and 16-2 in conference. One of the main reasons for that was All-American candidate Seth Tuttle, who averaged 15.3 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 61.6% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range. (He earned Kels Dayton’s All-American vote, that’s for sure).
The senior from Sheffield, Iowa was a revelation this season, and his play helped the Panthers earn the Missouri Valley Conference title for the first time since 2010. Head coach Ben Jacobson is one of the more underrated bosses in the country, and he’ll have his team ready to play come Friday.
Outside of Tuttle, this isn’t an overwhelming UNI team. It probably isn’t even as talented as the group that beat No. 1 Kansas and reached the Sweet 16 in 2010, despite the fact that this squad reached the top 10 in the national rankings. But the Panthers do two things that teams that make deep NCAA Tournament runs do–they play great defense and they take good shots. Just look at the numbers below.
One troubling stat? UNI does rank 320th out of 351 teams in D-1 in rebounding.
16th Field Goal Percentage (.483)
4th Points Allowed (54.3)
320th Rebounds per game (30.8)
12. Wyoming (25-9, 11-7/Mountain West)–Wyoming’s run to the Mountain West title was a breakthrough moment for this program, which had been knocking on the door for years, but hadn’t been able to bust through.
The Cowboys were a classic conference tournament underdog, a team filled with upper-classmen that dealt with plenty of injuries and were better than their 11-7 regular season Mountain West finish. It’s nice to see seniors like Larry Nance Jr. and Charles Hankerson reach the NCAA Tournament.
With a healthy Nance (the son of the former slam dunk champion), who averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game this season, the Cowboys are a legitimate threat to take down Northern Iowa. They play excellent defense (as evidenced by holding Colorado to 33 points in November), and know how to win close games (3-1 in OT this season, including a triple-overtime win at Fresno State).
8th Points Allowed (56.0)
330th Rebounds (30.1)
60th Field Goal Percentage (46.2%)
PREDICTION: Tuttle does just enough to lead Northern Iowa past Wyoming, which will be a popular upset pick. Niether has enough depth to get past Louisville in the Round of 32, though.