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Five things you should know about Northern Illinois

By mrasor Published: February 13, 2009

Men's basketball
Akron will play NIU Sunday at

8 p.m. 3 p.m. in DeKalb, Ill.
    Here hither a heap of Huskie hints...
    1) In the press conference on Wednesday, a member of the media innocently asked Chris McKnight about the Zips loss at home to Northern Illinois last season. McKnight exploded with passion, talking about how motivated the team is for revenge. I expected the politically correct b.s., but McKnight brought the heat. Let me back up a few steps... Akron had a home winning streak of 14 months. They hadn't lost a conference game at Rhodes Arena in three years. Northern Illinois came to Akron on a wintry night that scared off most fans. The Huskies shot better than any college team I have ever seen in person (65 FG%, 50 3P%) and won easily, 88-78. Keith Dambrot called it the worst defensive effort of his tenure. It seems to me that Akron just caught NIU on the wrong night. Aside from that game, the Huskies were bad. Central Michigan eliminated NIU in the first round of the MAC Tournament. The Huskies finished the season at 6-22.
    2) The Huskies are losing a lot of games this year, too. They sit at 5-16 (2-8 MAC), which gives them an RPI of 329. That puts NIU in the 4 percentile of Division I teams. Ouch. Truth is, the Huskies have been halfway proficient at home, where they hold a 4-5 record. They nearly (and should have) beat Kent State in DeKalb on Tuesday. Bowling Green won only by eight. It's true that NIU is a dog. But it's a dog that is more aggressive in its own yard.
    3) What surprises me is this: NIU has some talent. Maybe more than any team in its division. Darion "Jake" Anderson is a sophomore guard who has scored 25 or more on four occasions. He was suspended one game, however, for breaking team rules. Mike DiNunno almost certainly will earn All-MAC Freshman consideration. He is a fantastic shooter, feisty defender and promising point guard. The player who impressed me most last year was Michael Patton, son of coach Ricardo Patton. The son made 7-of-13 shots -- almost all mid-range jumpers or 3-pointers. He was way too skinny, but his smooth release reminds me of Stephen Curry. This year, Patton has regressed badly. He is shooting only 27 percent. There was talk of redshirting Patton this season. In retrospect, that might have been a good idea. Sean Kowal is another promising sophomore. The 6-foot-11 center averages 9.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
    4) Indeed, this is a very young team. Five of the Huskies seven freshmen play significant time. All four sophomores are in the rotation, as well. Sean Smith, the team's only senior, comes off the bench to add some rebounding and scoring. The team's only two juniors play about 15 minutes per game each. The next two seasons should be much more fruitful for the Huskies, considering their youth. Also, they will have available a transfer from Colorado, Xavier Silas, who averaged double-figures for the Buffaloes. In the future, I see Ball State and Northern Illinois having a strangle hold on the MAC West, prying control away from the more recent division leaders (CMU, WMU and Toledo).
    5) This has been an optimistic post. Let me bring the Huskies back to earth. For the years I have covered the MAC, I have heard (and read) a lot of opinions about the upcoming talent on this team, or the recruits on their way for that team. Guess what. Those teams are still in the basement. Why? They don't play defense. In the MAC, you can have great talent, but the talent won't be so superior that it allows you not to play defense. The exception, traditionally, has been when a team has NBA talent on its roster. The Huskies are last in the MAC in giving up 71.7 points per game. While NIU probably will have more talent than Ball State in two years, I admire the defensive foundation that Cardinals' coach Billy Taylor has instilled ... Another major problem for NIU has been free throw shooting. At 58 percent, the Huskies are worst in the MAC and DEAD LAST in the nation. To put it in context, the Huskies are worse than having a team full of Shaquille O'Neals ( 62 FT%).

Against common opponents at common venues, Northern Illinois has been about 25 points worse than Akron. After factoring in home-court advantage and McKnight's fury, I predict a 20-point Akron victory. What do you think?
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