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Ben Jacobson

Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, shown here during a game earlier this season, was named issouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year on Thursday for the third time in his nine years as Panthers' head coach.

NORMAL — Wichita State and Northern Iowa are getting plenty of exposure for the Missouri Valley Conference this season — on and off the basketball court.

Both are 18-2 overall and ranked in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, with the Shockers coming in at No. 12 and UNI at No. 18. They face off for the first time this season at 3 p.m. Saturday in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on ESPN2.

Amazingly, that will be the first matchup of ranked Valley teams since Jan. 18, 1982, when No. 18 Tulsa beat No. 16 Wichita State, 99-88.

However, both teams are giving fans a deeper glimpse into their programs away from the court as well.

"UNI Basketball All-Access" debuted on Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Jan. 2. It is a 30-minute weekly documentary with behind-the-scenes looks of the coaches and players. Coach Ben Jacobson was miked up during the Panthers' 54-53 comeback victory against Illinois State at Redbird Arena on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Wichita State is among four teams (along with Maryland, Notre Dame and Oklahoma) to be spotlighted in a five-part series on Showtime debuting in late February entitled "The Road to March Madness." 

"We have editing power, so we can control the message a little bit. One reason why we have athletics at the university level is to gain exposure for your school and university," said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall on Monday during the MVC coaches teleconference.

"By and large, we've had quite a bit of exposure. We try to make that a very positive exposure and have a good reflection on our university because we have really good kids in our program who represent us very well for the most part."

Jacobson admitted he was a bit hesitant to give viewers a behind-the-scenes perspective. However, after joining Twitter earlier this year (something he said wouldn't have happened a year ago), Jacobson decided to showcase his program in a different light. 

"Our players have not only enjoyed it and had fun with it, but we've learned some things about each other and they've learned some things about me," he said. "When you see it on a TV show, as opposed to being part of it every day, it just comes across a little different. That message is good for our guys."

Jacobson also added the obvious — from a recruiting perspective "it's been a real positive for us." 

McIntosh, Hawkins updates: ISU's MiKyle McIntosh struggled off the court in the final minute of Sunday's game against UNI. Redbird coach Dan Muller said McIntosh "banged knees" with the Panthers' Marvin Singleton.

Muller said McIntosh was stiff Monday, but the ISU coach believes his 6-foot-7 freshman forward will be fine for Wednesday's 7 p.m. game when the Redbirds (12-8, 4-4) meet Missouri State (8-12, 2-6) at Redbird Arena.

Deontae Hawkins, who has played four minutes since Dec. 17 because of a stress reaction in his left foot, dressed against UNI for the first time since Dec. 31. The 6-8 freshman forward didn't see action.

"He could play this week. He's getting closer," said Muller, whose team is at Loyola on Saturday. "Health-wise he's getting there. He's just missed five weeks of practice. He practiced a little bit last week, but not full at all."

Midway point: The league race hits the halfway point in the middle of this week. Because some teams have played each other twice and not played other teams once, it is difficult to gauge where everyone will finish.

Yet one thing is clear to SIU coach Barry Hinson.

"This is a two-headed snake in our league right now," said Hinson, referring to Wichita State (8-0 in the Valley) and UNI (7-1). "We're definitely looking at two teams in the NCAA tournament.

"There's a lot of games to be played and a lot of shake up. I don't think there will be much shake up at the top ... but I think, from that point on, there's a lot of parity."

Tuttle top player: UNI's Seth Tuttle was named MVC Player of the Week on Monday for the second time this season. The 6-8 senior forward averaged 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in two Panthers' victories, including 21 points, 10 rebounds and three assists against ISU.

The Newcomer of the Week was Loyola's 6-7 junior forward Montel James, who contributed 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in two Rambler losses.



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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