Wichita State fans cheer during the ESPN Gameday broadcast prior to the game. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

Eyes pointed down court and right arm cocked behind his head, Fred VanVleet looked like a quarterback who had just spotted a receiver breaking free down field. The Wichita State point guard lobbed a length-of-the-floor pass to Tekele Cotton, who caught it, took one dribble and unleashed a powerful windmill slam that served as an ideal exclamation point for the Shockers’ biggest victory of the season. By defeating Valley co-leader Northern Iowa 74-60 on Saturday afternoon at Koch Arena, Wichita State secured its second consecutive league championship and avenged its only conference loss of the season. The Panthers had throttled the Shockers last month in Cedar Falls to move into a first-place tie and set up a winner-take-all showdown in Saturday’s regular season finale.  If Wichita State hasnt received anywhere near the attention this season as it did during its unbeaten regular season a year ago, the Shockers’ performance on Saturday was a reminder that it’s not wise to forget about them entering March. The graduation of Cleanthony Early has left a void in the frontcourt, but the nation’s 11th-ranked team can still be dangerous because of the backcourt of VanVleet, Cotton and Ron Baker.  Wichita State reversed the outcome from its first game against Wichita State because it was able to speed up the tempo and attack before Northern Iowa’s vaunted defense could get set. The Shockers forced only 10 turnovers with their pressure defense just like the first matchup, but their guards were more intent on turning steals and missed shots into fast-break chances this time against a methodical Panthers team that allows the fourth fewest points nationally.  Transition buckets, unselfish passing and deadly perimeter shooting enabled Wichita State to become only the second Valley team to score more than 60 points against Northern Iowa this season. Baker led five players in double figures with 17 points as the Shockers shot 49.1 percent from the field and finished with 19 assists compared to only three turnovers. Northern Iowa showed tenacity and character reeling off a 16-2 surge to slice an 18-point deficit to four midway through the second half, but the Panthers could not generate enough stops to get any closer. Two huge Evan Wessell corner 3-pointers helped Wichita State extend the lead, as did one from VanVleet a few possessions later.  Wichita State’s victory bolsters its case for a potential No. 4 or 5 seed when the bracket is unveiled on Selection Sunday. Though Northern Iowa is the first surefire NCAA tournament team that the Shockers have defeated this season, they’re 27-3 overall, they have seven RPI top 100 victories and their losses are by one at Utah, by six against George Washington and by 16 against the Panthers.   Northern Iowa (27-3, 16-2) also still has a case for a No. 4 or 5 seed if it can win a potential rubber match against the Shockers in next weekend’s Arch Madness title game — and make no mistake, there’s a very good chance these teams will meet for a third time. The Shockers and Panthers are not only the class of the Valley this season but also two teams who will be very tough outs in March. – – – – – – – Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @JeffEisenberg

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