10 November 2009

Better Know An Opponent: Northern Illinois University

On Friday November 13 at 7pm local time, NU takes on Northern Illinois University ("NIU") in its first game of the historic 2009-10 men's basketball season.  The game is at the Welsh and will be streamed online at the Big Ten Network (available for $2.99).

NIU Quick Facts:
Location: DeKalb, IL
Nickname: Huskies
Coach: "Ricky" Ricardo Patton
Team Colors: Black and Red
Conference: Mid-American
Student Population: 25K
Most Famous Alum: Dan Castellanta (doh!!!!)

Other Notable Alums: Jimmy Chamberlin (Smashing Pumpkins drummer), Terry Boers (yes, of WSCR), Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons RB)

NIU is located in DeKalb, IL which is about 65 miles west of Chi-town.  NIU better fits the Big Ten profile than Northwestern as it is a member of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and has a student population that is much larger than Northwestern.  To better serve its student masses and lack of viable entertainment alternatives in bustling DeKalb, NIU also sports a good-sized, state-of-the-art basketball arena, the Convocation Center, which seats 10K.  Academically, NIU is best known for its bean counters as the school is ranked around the top 10 in the nation for accountants.  It must be a laugh a minute out there in DeKalb.

NIU is in the Mid-American Conference (aka, a "MAC-Daddy"), and is predicted to finish second by the media and first by Sporting News in the MAC West this year.  These are heady expectations for the Huskies who finished fifth last year in the MAC West.  The thinking is that NIU played lots of sophs and frosh last year, and their growing pains will begin to pay dividends this season.

It's difficult to get a bead on these Huskies because, well, this is the first game of the year.  Hence, we at Carmody Court are forced to extrapolate from last year's season.  Overall, the Huskies return 88% of their scoring and 79% of their rebounding.  Their best player was Darion "Jake" Anderson, a junior guard who averaged 17 ppg and 5.5 rpg and can fill it up from distance (37% 3FGM, about 4 attempts per game).  Anderson declared for the NBA draft (sans agent) in May 2009 but returns for another year to build his resume.  Joining Anderson in the backcourt is Mike DiNunno, a soph guard who also likes to launch bombs but isn't quite as proficient at it (34% 3FGM, about 5 attempts per game).  The Huskies have their own version of Alex Marcotullio in Troy Nixon, a true frosh sharpshooter from South Holland IL.

It is appropriate to think of the Huskies as Boulder-East as they have Sean Kowal at center, a kid who made the switch along with Coach Patton from Colorado.  Kowal led the MAC in FG% last year.  Xavier Silas makes his debut in a Huskie uniform against NU after also transferring in from Colorado. 

NIU's weaknesses last year play right into NU's hands.  They were prone to turning the ball over (Nash should have a field day) and defensive lapses (never a good thing against an offense as perpetually active as Northwestern).  NIU also struggled a bit from the charity stripe (60% FTM overall), so NU should not be allowing any easy baskets on slashes toward the hoop.

In short, NIU shapes up to be a worthy foe on Friday.  NIU's backcourt should have an advantage as Crawford gets his legs, though I fully expect Nash to come in quickly off the bench to neutralize this advantage by creating some turnovers and easy fast break points.  NU's advantage is in the front court given our height advantage.  I don't think NIU will have a collective answer for Mirk, Coble, and Shurna which should prove to be NIU's downfall.