Conference tournaments are underway as we move into one of the largest betting events of the year in March Madness. Northern Iowa has had one of the best seasons of any mid-major and figures to be one of the darling Cinderella picks. It just needs to secure a spot in the big tournament with a Missouri Valley Conference Championship title.
Reviewing Northern Iowa’s regular season
Coming off a surprise MVC Tournament run as a six seed in 2019 before falling to Bradley in the final, Northern Iowa has built off that success to put together a brilliant 2019-20 season. Led by its prolific scorer in AJ Green, the Panthers finished off their season at 25-5 and go into the MVC Tournament as the one seed and clear favorite.
The Panthers lost just once in non-conference play, falling to West Virginia in a neutral site game they should’ve won by most accounts. They cemented their status a top mid-major with wins against South Carolina and on the road against the 24th ranked Colorado Buffaloes. Northern Iowa’s conference play was disappointing in some ways, losing four games, including back-to-back losses to Loyola Chicago and Indiana State in February. That hurt the chances of the Panthers comfortably getting in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid.
The pressure to complete a great season with an MVC Tournament win and NCAA Tournament berth now lies in the hands of Green. The sophomore averaged 19.7 points per game along with three assists and three rebounds on 42.2% shooting. Most of his damage is done from deep as a 39.2 % shooter. That goes in line with the entire Panthers team, as five of their six leading scorers shoot at least 39% from beyond the arc. It’s a recipe of success for underdogs in the NCAA Tournament.
Northern Iowa (-118) odds to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
DraftKings Sportsbook has Northern Iowa as the clear favorite in the MVC Tournament at -118 odds as the one seed. Despite finishing just one game ahead of Loyola Chicago and dropping a game to the Ramblers less than a month ago, Loyola is +300 to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The main difference between the two teams was out of conference, where Loyola went just 8-5 and saw a potential quality win against Vanderbilt turn into the worst team in the SEC. The Panthers clearly have the most talent in the conference, but 3-point shooting can be volatile, so you’re banking on consistent shooting to take them at low odds.
Northern Iowa (+2500) odds to make the Final Four, (+10000) to win the Championship
It’s always a risky play to bet on a Cinderella team to make a run as deep as the Final Four in March Madness. Double-digit seeds have historically struggled to get to the Final Four, and Northern Iowa would likely come into the tournament somewhere between a 9 to 11 seed depending how things fall in the conference tournament. But it’s become more common recently, including aforementioned Loyola making its run in 2018 and double-digit seeded Syracuse in 2016. The bonus for taking a shot on Northern Iowa is, again, its shooting. The easiest way for a physically overmatched underdog to win and make a run in March has always been lights out shooting from deep. There’s not a team in the country more equipped to put that formula into play than the Panthers.