After shocking Kansas and busting up many brackets in the process, the No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers go for another upset on Friday against the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans.
Northern Iowa defeated Kansas as an 11.5-point underdog at Bovada. The Panthers won 69-67 and are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time.
Ali Farokhmanesh dropped the dagger on the Jayhawks with his wide open three-pointer that put the game out of reach for Kansas. Farokhmanesh also led Northern Iowa with 16 points and Jordan Eglseder added 14 points.
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If the Panthers hope to make it to the Final Four they’ve likely drawn the best opponent they could get in Michigan. We’re not slighting the Spartans, it’s just that their leading scorer Kalin Lucas is out for the rest of the tournament after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the second round.
With Lucas sidelined the Spartans narrowly got past Maryland 85-83 as a 1.5-point underdog. Lucas’ importance isn’t difficult to figure out. After he got hurt the Spartans blew a 16-point lead against Maryland and only prevailed thanks to a three-pointer at the buzzer from Korie Lucious (Lucas’ replacement).
Minus Lucas, Durrell Summers carried the Spartans’ offense with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, which included going 6-of-7 from three-point range.
It’s worth noting that during the regular season the only game Lucas missed the Spartans lost to Illinois 78-73. That’s the same Illinois team they defeated 73-63 earlier in the season with Lucas in the lineup. Without Lucas the Spartans will need all they can get from Raymar Morgan, Summers, and of course Lucious. Due to the Lucas situation the Spartans are only a 1-point favorite on the latest Sweet 16 odds.
This is the third straight year that the Spartans have made it to at least the Sweet 16 in the tournament. Last year they made it all the way to the championship game before falling to North Carolina, and in 2008 they were knocked out by No. 1 seed Memphis.
Before this year the Panthers had only been beyond the first round in the tournament once. That was in 1990, and since then they were 0-4 in the tournament before their wild run to the Sweet 16.