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Matt Norlander

Welcome to The Dance, Northern Iowa Panthers

The Dagger

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he Missouri Valley has become the small man's big conference. The shiny car to show off in the display room. Though it's now been years since the MVC was able to send upwards of two teams to the NCAAs, it seems each season, whichever club(s) represent the 10-team conference, a strong upset candidate emerges.

This conference, more than any other (outside of the A10 and Mountain West) has kept a good reputation for more than a decade. Northern Iowa tussled with Wichita State in an ugly affair (the MVC final tends to be low-scoring and unflattering) for the majority of the conference final earlier this afternoon. But the Panthers, who were clearly the class of the Mizzou Valley in 2009-10, got out of St. Louis with a 67-52 victory - their third conference title.

Player to know: While Jordan Eglseder is the quirky-looking big man that gets the boards and Adam Koch was the preseason all-conference pick, Kwadzo Ahelegbe is the man who can capture your attention and be the face of this team if it gets to the second weekend. Ahelegbe (pictured) led the Panthers with 24 today in the title game and has been a spark plug for UNI all season long.

The Vitals:

»Record: 28-4, 15-3 Missouri Valley
»Team colors: purple and old gold
»We're thinking: a 9-seed
»KenPom ranking: 37
»RPI: 22
»Best win: Siena (25-6)
»Worst loss: @ Evansville (9-21)
»Notable stat: Only play-in-molasses Princeton (52.2) allowed fewer points per game this season than UNI (54.1). The Panthers test your patience and make you work every option until you end up settling for one you probably aren't satisfied with. They say tournament play is about the half-court game. Few teams are better suited for the style than these guys.
»Most recent tournament history (six total appearances):
-2009 (12-seed): L first round to Purdue, 61-56.
-2006 (10-seed): L first round to Illinois, 54-49.
-2005 (11-seed): L first round to Wisconsin, 57-52.

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