Men’s basketball must make most of schedule

By Steve Shonder

Men’s basketball has to go through a solid non-conference slate before MAC play opens up.

The Huskies put together a good performance Saturday at the Convocation Center in their 71-44 exhibition win over the Roosevelt Lakers, but there are still quite a few things they’ll need to work on. They’ll have opportunities, especially on the road, to check their progress before they face off with the MAC.

The road is where NIU will have to prove itself as its home slate is soft on serious challengers. Road games against the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish give the Huskies a chance to play against teams from the upper crust conferences, which will give NIU much-needed experience for big games when the conference season and MAC Tournament rolls around.

Home games

The home non-conference slate for the Huskies provides opportunities for offensive breakout games, which is exactly what the doctor ordered. They’ll encounter some very porous defenses.

The Maine Black Bears, who come to town Nov. 30, and the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, who hit DeKalb Dec. 16, featured some of the worst defenses in college basketball last season. Both teams allowed more than 80 points per game.

Only the game with the Hampton Pirates Dec. 29 gives the Huskies a home opponent with postseason experience. Hampton played in the College Basketball Invitational tournament last year.

Road games

The Huskies’ most challenging game comes Nov. 26 against Iowa, which scored at the 10th-best clip in the country last season.

Individually, players like Aaron White will provide a solid test for the Huskies’ defense. If NIU can hold back the Hawkeyes’ offense it’ll bode well for defensive play this year.

The Dec. 22 matchup with Notre Dame will be another tough challenge simply because of the high profile of the opponent. The Irish are coming off their worst season in years, but that won’t be a factor because they’ll return all their bright spots, like senior Jerian Grant. Grant’s 12-game stint last season saw him become one of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Notre Dame defense should give NIU a good chance to break out in grand style. If the Huskies’ offense is looking for a breakout game, this will be it. The Irish allowed an average of 70.6 points per game and they only averaged 23 rebounds per game.

While the Huskies’ matchup with the DePaul Blue Demons Dec. 2 isn’t the most high-profile matchup, it’s a test for the Huskies’ full court press. DePaul coach Oliver Purnell is the mastermind of the 1-2-1-1 diamond press, which means the Blue Demons should know how to handle NIU’s aggressive defense.