Men’s hoops spars with Aurora

By Steve Shonder

Men’s basketball will put its new-look offense on display when it opens its regular season Saturday.

The Huskies will take on the Aurora Spartans 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center. NIU is coming off a 71-44 preseason win over the Roosevelt Lakers.

The Huskies are still working on their new fast-paced offensive scheme, but head coach Mark Montgomery likes how they’ve adjusted to it at this point. He said there are still a lot of things he’d like to see cleaned up.

“I do like that we’re trying to score after makes and misses,” Montgomery said. “We’re pushing the ball, so we’re putting the pressure [on the opponents’] defense. For the first of the season, where it’s at, I’m happy. But I want to start making a few transition 3s, transition pull-ups and getting the ball to the first post a little faster. It’s a good start.”

Aurora, a Div. III school, is coming off a successful 2013-14 campaign which ended in the second round of its conference tournament. The Spartans return with a potent offense that averages 81 points per game, but their defense isn’t on the same level, allowing an average of 76.8 points per game.

The Huskies’ offense will likely have a stronger showing against Aurora after shooting just 38.2 percent from the field against Roosevelt.

“We’ll be ready to shoot,” said junior guard Travon Baker. “I know we can make shots. We’re still working in practice. We’re still grinding every day. We’re still pushing the ball. I know we have our opportunities to score the ball, whether it’s in fast break or half court sets.”

The defense was there for the Huskies in the preseason. They forced the Lakers to take poor shots, resulting in a 34.9 field goal percentage. NIU also out-rebounded Roosevelt, 53-19, but the biggest advantage came in the turnover department.

Roosevelt turned over the ball 24 times, with most of its turnovers coming in transition against the Huskies’ full-court press. The Huskies are putting a lot of work into the press not just for the turnovers but to cut down on the shot clock for opponents.

“It was an adjustment, but I think it’s going to play to our advantage because we have 10 guys who can play and we’re able to speed teams up defensively,” said redshirt senior center Pete Rakocevic. “That plays into our hands trying to run offensively. We still have some kinks we need to work out.”

The position battles are ongoing, but Montgomery doesn’t want anybody to think starting equals playing time. He did say the returning starters have a big leg up at this point in the season.

“Four of five of those guys started last year, so they know the system, they know what’s expected,” Montgomery said. “They have a little chemistry together. They have a little more familiarity with each other. …

“When you look at our minutes, the most minutes was 24 played, the least amount of minutes of the top 10 guys was 18. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting or coming off the bench; you’re going to play a lot of minutes.”