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Beware hoops powers -- Panthers on the prowl again

Northern Iowa’s doing it again.

The Panthers held off Illinois State Wednesday night for their eight straight win. They’re now 18-6 overall and 9-3 in the Missouri Valley, tied with Missouri State for second place.

Not too shabby for a team that was 9-5 on New Year’s Day.

“It’s amazing what they’re doing,” Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich told the Des Moines Register before the game. “They’re playing unbelievably well.”

The offense had to adjust to losing three of its top scorers, including Adam Koch, Ali Farokhmanesh and center Jordan Eglseder. It took a while, but they’ve found a groove thanks to some solid defense and some even better shooting.

UNI’s eFG% has topped 52 percent in five of those eight wins.

“With Eglseder, they could just throw the ball in there any time they wanted and bring the game to a standstill,” Jankovich told the paper. “At times, I see them doing that with (Lucas) O’Rear. He’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor, but he’s not 7-foot.”

UNI’s far from the team that shocked Kansas and reached the 2010 Sweet 16, but it’s turning into one that’s capable of returning to the Big Dance and making another major conference team’s life miserable. The players are crediting a more aggressive defense, but a certain amount of luck is involved, too.

Five of the Panthers’ wins during their streak have been by five points or less. (They’re now 30-16 under coach Ben Jacobsen in games decided by five points or less.) Four of those wins were on the road. In the brutally competitive Valley, that’s not just good, it’s lucky and good.

But hey, who says you can’t be both?

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.