Quick start to men’s basketball season is no fluke


Northern Star file photo

Head coach Mark Montgomery contests a call in a Dec. 2 game against Chicago State. Montgomery has coached the Huskies to their best start since his 2011 arrival, and the team is one win away from beating last season’s total wins.

By Christopher Loggins

Men’s basketball fell to 14-3 following a double-digit loss to Western Michigan over the weekend, but there is plenty to look forward to for fans of the team.

Head coach Mark Montgomery said getting the Huskies to postseason play was one of his main goals heading into the season, and, barring a huge meltdown, his goal is on pace to become a reality. Here are three observations of the team following its recent loss:

NIU’s quick start to the season has been no fluke

NIU has had a huge turnaround after finishing last season 14-16. The team already has as many wins through 17 games this year as they did all of last year, and look like a team that has figured out how to play with each other. The Huskies currently hold the best record in the MAC and have held their own with teams such as Ohio State and Missouri.

The team has win streaks of both five and seven games and is on track for its first 20-win season in more than 20 years. The last time NIU won 20 games was in the 1995-96 season. The Huskies went 20-10 and made it to the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have completed just three 20-win seasons in the history of the program.

There are 14 games remaining in the regular season and, if they are able to remain as consistent as they have been, the Huskies are on pace to have possibly their winningest season of all time. Their best season came in 1990 when they went 25-6 under head coach Jim Molinari.

NIU has gotten great play from its freshman class

Much of the Huskies’ success this season can be attributed to stellar play from many of their freshmen including Levi Bradley, Jaylen Key, Laytwan Porter and Marshawn Wilson. Wilson has already emerged as the third leading scorer on the team, averaging 10.8 points per game. He’s shot over 40 percent from the field, 39 percent from three and 78 percent from the free-throw line. What’s more impressive about Wilson’s season is that he’s averaging less than 20 minutes per game and still managing to be one of NIU’s top performers.

Key has started 11 of 17 games this season, scoring over 100 points and shooting 50 percent. He’s currently averaging 5.9 points, good for sixth on the roster. He’s also averaging four rebounds. Porter and Bradley have combined for about 10 points per game off the bench. Neither of them average over 17 minutes per game and are shooting solid percentages.

Montgomery has to be excited with what he has seen from his new guys. The future looks bright for his young players and their numbers are sure to increase as their minutes do. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform as tougher stretches of the season approach, but they should adjust well as long as their minutes are managed well.

Mark Montgomery has diffused any questions about his coaching ability

Montgomery has failed to put together a winning season for men’s basketball since taking over in 2011, but his yearly progress has been a great sign. The team won just five games in each of his first two seasons, which can always raise a few eyebrows, but the Huskies have won 15 and 14 games in Montgomery’s last two seasons, which aren’t great numbers but are vast improvements.

NIU has failed to finish higher than fourth in the MAC West in his previous four years. They finished sixth in both 2011 and 2012 and fourth in both 2013 and 2014. They’ll likely finish in the top two this season. They’re two games ahead of Ball State, which sits in second place at 12-5 and will make advances at the number one spot for the next two months.

Montgomery should be applauded for the job he’s done despite where the team finishes. Many people probably didn’t expect a turnaround this quickly, and he has his team looking at a bright future from here on out.