It would have been impossible for Northern Iowa to repeat last season. Which, you know, duh. The Panthers had a dominant Missouri Valley regular season and conference tournament before miraculously downing the No. 1 team in the nation in the second round thanks to Ali Farokhmanesh's onions-filled late 3. Those kind of seasons don't come around very often, so you have to appreciate them when they do.
Nor did many see UNI as the Missouri Valley favorite. The Panthers were still talented, according to the consensus, but without Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder, it would be hard to stop a veteran Wichita State team from taking over the conference crown.
All of these things were expected. What wasn't quite as roundly anticipated was that UNI would struggle this much. After last night's 51-39 loss to Iowa, those struggles are now front and center, and we know at least one thing about the 2010-11 version of the Panthers: This is not an at-large team.
And, yes, you read that scoreline correctly. UNI scored 39 points in 53 possessions Tuesday night. The Panthers went 15-of-55 from the field, good for 27.3 percent, and they rarely got to the foul line in the process. Iowa didn't even have to play all that well on offense to win. It's not often you score 51 points in 53 possessions and win by 12. But UNI was just that bad.
It feels a little unfair to proclaim "UNI is not an at-large team!" from the mountaintop, because it's really, really hard for a team like UNI to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament in the first place. But it is true. Even worse, when paired with Creighton's unimpressive nonconference run thus far -- the Bluejays have losses to Iowa State, Northwestern, BYU, and Nebraska -- the Missouri Valley Conference's hopes of sneaking a second or third team into the NCAA tournament this season are effectively sealed.
Until further notice, the MVC is a one-bid league, and the halcyon days of 2006 -- when the Valley had as many tourney bids (four) as the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-10 -- seem like ages ago.