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Who is Northern Illinois?

By mrasor Published: January 23, 2007

Men's basketball

Akron will face several unfamiliar opponents in the next few weeks.

Even coach Keith Dambrot admitted to only having seen a couple of the MAC West teams play this year.

If there was ever a deceptive 4-13 record, it belongs to NIU, the defending MAC West regular season champs and Akron's opponent on Wednesday. The Huskies have played eight of their last 10 games on the road, where the team has barely put up a fight.

But the Zips will travel to DeKalb, Ill., for this contest. At home, things are different for Rob Judson's team. They still have a losing record of 2-4 at home, but every defeat but one has been close.

Perhaps most impressive was a 70-68 win over Western Michigan, who boasts a win this year over Virginia Tech. They also lost by one against Eastern Michigan.

So, yeah, Northern Illinois might be the worst team in the MAC, but the team can compete with conference favorites at home.

Here are NIU's strengths...

The Huskies are second in the MAC in field goal shooting at 48.1 percent. Only Akron is better at 48.6 percent.

NIU has a rebounding margin of +1.9 per game. That's good for fifth in the conference. Akron is fourth-best.

The Huskies play decent interior defense. They average 3.47 blocks per game, fourth-best in the MAC. Akron is tops at 3.82.

The team is third in the MAC in assists at 14.76 a game. Akron is first at 15.94.

Here are the weaknesses...

Although they dish out plenty of assists, they have the worst turnover margin in the MAC at -5.41. In short, they make a lot of risky passes and don't bother to force turnovers.

The Huskies give up the most points per game in the MAC at 72.9.

While NIU's field goal percentage is high, most shots come from inside the arc. The Huskies are last in the MAC in 3-pointers attempted.

Who contributes?

Without 6-foot-10 James Hughes, the Huskies would be incredibly bad. He is the only reason the Huskies have a high field goal percentage and a respectable interior defense. He averages 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. His blocked shots total is best in the MAC.

Senior guard Mike McKinney loves to slash and dunk. He leads the Huskies with 13.2 points per game.

Junior swingman Zach Pancratz is NIU's only option for a 3-pointer with the graduation of three key shooters. He shoots 33 percent from long range.

The game starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday. I'll have my prediction tomorrow. My first inclination is to predict a line around Akron minus nine.

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