Don’t look now, NCAA, but the Northern Iowa Panthers are trying to crash your party.
After losing All-MVC performer Kwazdo Ahelegbe and defensive force Lucas O’Rear to graduation following last season, the Panthers were expected to struggle early while trying to improve upon their 10-8 finish a year ago, good for a tie for fourth place in the Valley.
Someone forgot to tell Ben Jacobson and his squad.
Following a loss to St. Mary’s at the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, all the 9-1 Panthers have done is won eight consecutive games, and earned the #5 spot in the Cbssports.com RPI ranking. Plus, UNI fans still have fingernails left for the conference season – five of their nine wins have been by more than 15 points.
Although they couldn’t knock Creighton off the top spot in the Power Rankings, the seven votes in the AP Poll mean that national respect has been earned in Cedar Falls.
Here are the Missouri Valley Basketball Examiner’s Power Rankings for the 2011-12 season – Week of December 12, 2011:
1. Creighton (7-1)- They fell at St. Joseph’s, but the Bluejays are leading the country in assists per game, and rank fifth in scoring. They stayed in the AP Poll at #25, despite the loss. (1)
2. Wichita State (7-2)- Two impressive wins, at Tulsa and against Utah State, solidifies the Shockers’ place among the best non-BCS schools in the country. WSU received one vote in the AP Poll this week. (2)
3. Northern Iowa (9-1)- The Panthers keep rolling, and have a legitimate chance to enter conference play with an 11-1 record. The 20-point win over Iowa sent a statement to many BCS apologists. (3)
4. Missouri State (5-3)- The Bears lost a winnable game against Oklahoma State, then defeated Arkansas-Little Rock on the road. Mike Bizoukas had 15 assists against just one turnover last week. (4)
5. Indiana State (7-2)- The Trees struggled to get by Division II Maryville last week, but Jake Odum (10pts, seven rebounds, six assists) keeps filling the box score. #25 Vanderbilt lies ahead – Lansing’s group will be tested. (5)
6. Drake (5-3)- Drake didn’t shoot well (44.9%) in a win over Eastern Michigan last week, but Ben Simons (16.8ppg) has emerged as one of the Valley’s best so far this season. (6)
7. Evansville (4-4)- The Aces avenged a 49-point loss as North Carolina by beating North Carolina A&T by 21 points. Denver Holmes averaged 12.0ppg on 56% shooting last week. (7)
8. Illinois State (6-3)- Jankovich’s group shot 59% in a win over lowly Morehead State. Jon Ekey is already building a case for the league’s Most Improved Player award. (8)
9. Bradley (4-4)- Walt Lemon’s explosion (24 points, five assists, seven steals) helped the Braves to a big second half and a win over Northeastern. Taylor Brown’s four double-doubles leads the Valley. (9)
10. Southern Illinois (1-5)- Defeated by Western Kentucky and Western Michigan, the Salukis are starting to look like one of the worst teams in Division I. Lowery’s boys shot just 32% from the floor last week. (10)
Valley record: 55-28
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