Two of the nation’s top mid-majors, Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky, will meet Wednesday in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic on the opening day of the college basketball season.
Northern Iowa, traditionally a slow team, ranked 310th in possessions per game last season. Combined with the nation’s eighth-best 3-point shooting percentage, it ranked 17th in points per possession. The Panthers bring back their top three scorers, including top rebounder Austin Phyfe, but he figures to be no match for one of the nation’s top big men, Charles Bassey.
Bassey had his 2019-20 season limited to 10 games due to injury, but in his two seasons at Western Kentucky, he has collected 14.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. At 6-foot-11, he shoots 34.4 percent on 3s and 77.4 percent on free throws.
While Bassey can take over a game by himself, he’s aided by three other players who averaged more than 10 ppg. Plus, the Hilltoppers are a smart bunch that had the third-lowest foul per defensive play rate in the nation last season. That’s important because Northern Iowa ranked 37th last season in free-throw shooting.
Western Kentucky returns three players who averaged more than a steal per game. That should make life difficult for a Northern Iowa team that likes to bleed the shot clock.
The play: Western Kentucky, -2.5.