Indiana St.-N. Iowa Preview

Northern Iowa already has matched last season’s win total with mostly the same group, an improvement that can be attributed to the squad’s renewed commitment to defense.

That end of the floor is where Indiana State is having the most trouble.

The 20th-ranked Panthers look to take sole possession of second place in the Missouri Valley Conference when they host the Sycamores on Wednesday night.

UNI (16-2, 5-1) didn’t participate in any postseason tournament for the first time in five years after ranking ninth in the 10-team MVC in scoring defense by allowing 69.3 points per game in 2013-14.

It is much more stingy this season, giving up an average of 54.7 to rank fifth in the country, including just 47.8 in league action. The Panthers beat Missouri State 60-46 on Sunday despite shooting 39.3 percent from the field.

The Bears shot 36.8 percent on 38 field goal attempts, the fewest for a Northern Iowa opponent since it held Drake to 37 on Jan. 22, 2011. The Panthers are limiting opponents to 37.9 percent shooting on the season, the best mark in the conference.

”Our defense has been improving,” said guard Deon Mitchell, who scored 11 points. ”We’ve just been playing a lot more aggressive.”

The Panthers returned 91.2 percent of their scoring from last season’s 16-15 team, including the contributions of forward Seth Tuttle. The senior is averaging 14.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 0.6 blocks and is one of six players in the country to lead his team in all four categories.

Tuttle, who ranks fifth in the nation with a 62.6 field-goal percentage, finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds against Missouri State.

”He’s playing at a high level right now,” said coach Ben Jacobson, whose team along with Indiana State trails No. 14 Wichita State by one game for the conference lead. ”He’s making a lot of good plays.”

Tuttle and the rest of the Panthers could be in for another big night against the Sycamores (9-9, 5-1), who rank last in the Missouri Valley by allowing 69.9 points per game and are among the 10 worst teams in the nation defending the 3 (39.4 percent).

Indiana State had a five-game winning streak snapped with Saturday’s 84-78 loss at Drake, which entered the day winless in conference play. The Bulldogs shot 61.5 percent from the floor, the best mark for an Indiana State opponent since Drake shot 68.6 percent in a win on Dec. 30, 2004.

"Guys are human, they look at records, (but) we know better," coach Greg Lansing said. "We got lazy. We didn’t have it."

The Sycamores have been balanced offensively, though, and first-year guard Brenton Scott has been coming on of late. He scored a season-high 21 points Saturday and was named the conference’s newcomer of the week.

Juniors Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown added 16 points apiece.

"They have a lot of experience (but) they’ve got two or three new guys that are helping them quite a bit," Jacobson said. "Brenton Scott is playing great. Offensively they have a lot of versatility. They’ve got the personnel."

Tuttle has averaged 19.2 points in his last five against Indiana State, including a 23-point effort as the Panthers ended a four-game skid in the series with a 71-69 road victory March 1.