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Matt Norlander

The mid-major result that should be on your radar

The Dagger

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Before we get to the big boys, let's shine a light on the game most of you didn't get to see.

I like when the Missouri Valley is formidable. It's not as strong this season as it was four, five years back, but it's returned to a certain amount of legitimacy.

Or, at the very least, it is getting some respect and recognition.

Did you know the two best teams from the Valley played last night?

Are you aware those two teams are probably RSVP'ers to the big dance in eight weeks? I know: a multi-bid mid-major conference that's not the A10 or Mountain West. Surely we must be in some sort of alternative timeline. (And the objective to lasso in a "Lost" reference is accomplished.)

No. 24 Northern Iowa improved to 20-2 with a 57-54 home win over 19-5 Wichita State in Cedar Falls. The result also served as revenge for the Panthers (Kurt Warner's alma mater, in case you'd forgotten), who were handed one of their two losses this season by Wichita State two weeks ago.

The Panthers also moved up to 11-1 in the MVC, and that's good for a three-game lead in the loss column; Wichita State is in second with an 8-4 mark.

Before I address the Shockers from Wichita State, let's talk about the team that could parlay a seed as high as a 5 (Drake, an MVC team, did this two years ago) if it keeps this kind of behavior up. UNI is a team that surely deserves your attention. They made the tournament last season, and they have all five starters back. Northern Iowa probably plays better as a team — a cog of five moving as one — than all but, maybe, five teams in the country. That, of course, happens when you're able to grow together and establish an identity over three or four seasons.

The team runs a five-position offense. The man pictured isn't the prettiest of players (in many ways) but he is a big-bodied guy who can help Northern Iowa play against big-six schools. Name: Jordan Eglseder. Objective: to be goofy-looking, distract and destroy you. Also, Kwadzo Ahelegbe (the names get crazier every year) is a pivotal player for UNI. He put up 15 in the second half to lead the Panthers to the W last night. He forces too many shots but has come up in big spots for this team. I'd call him a poor man's Jeremy Hazell, but I think he's a better player and decision-maker than Hazell.

As for Wichita State, it has only one truly bad loss (at Drake), but now can't afford to lose any more before the Valley's postseason tournament. A win last night would've put them in a great spot, because they would've been just one game behind the Panthers and would've owned a season sweep.

The decisive game could be the BracketBusters matchup against Utah State, which just ran Idaho out of its home gym last night.

Matt Norlander is the editor of College Hoops Journal. You can e-mail him at editor@collegehoopsjournal.com and follow him on Twitter.

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