NIU men’s basketball: Consistent defense imperative for Huskies’ success

By Steve Shonder

With the MAC Tournament approaching, it’s time men’s basketball finds some consistency, especially on the defensive end.

Despite their 4-9 record in MAC play, the Huskies are far from the team their record shows. NIU’s success or lack thereof has stemmed from its defense. Opposing teams are shooting 44 percent, up from 40.7 percent last year, and they’re scoring more.

Some of this has come from a larger emphasis on offense this season, but the results aren’t there. The Huskies have to get back to being defensive minded; that’s been the road to success for them during the Mark Montgomery era. When they allow 70-plus points, they’re 0-32.

It was a story of two halves Wednesday against the Central Michigan Chippewas. The Chippewas ran out and scored 40 points in the first half behind some hot 3-point shooting. The Huskies could shrug this off since teams aren’t going to shoot that well from beyond the arc every game, but the way Central Michigan was finding its shooters is a concern.

In the first half the Chippewas worked the ball inside, let four defenders converge on the ball handler and then kicked it to the open man on the perimeter. It’s a strategy a lot of teams have tried to varied success, but it’s the sort of thing the Huskies can expect to see deployed against them in the MAC Tournament.

Another strategy NIU can expect to see used against it is teams actively trying to get to the free-throw line.

Fouls have been the savior and killer for the Huskies. When they out-foul opponents they’re 0-12. When NIU draws more fouls it’s 10-1. The difference is huge, and NIU knows it.

“We have to defend without fouling,” Montgomery said. “Other teams are getting to [the] foul line way too fast. They’re getting into the bonus seven minutes into the half. Moving our feet quicker … would … help us out there.”

In fairness, this team has had a lot of injuries — only redshirt senior Jordan Threloff, junior Chuks Iroegbu, junior Travon Baker and redshirt sophomore Michael Orris have appeared in every game this season — but that should only add to the Huskies’ drive.

The Huskies show an awful lot of resiliency at the end of games, but it’s time that translates to the start and middle of games. There’s an old saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and it’s no longer enough for the Huskies to just hang around in games until the end.

The Huskies need to get back to putting a greater emphasis on their defense. It’ll be a challenge, especially with the injuries in the frontcourt, but it’s what NIU is good at. Their defence was on display in the second half against Central Michigan Wendesday. The Huskies were able to claw back into the game behind a stifling defense that limited the Chippewas’ open shots, and just as importantly, the Huskies were able get their offense into a rhythm.

It’s crunch time for the Huskies in these final five games. They can still host a first-round MAC Tournament game, but only if the defense is there.