Face Off: Basketball’s success

By Brian Earle

Men’s and women’s basketball are just about one month into their respective seasons. After both teams had sub-par campaigns during the 2012-13 season, they are looking to rebound during the 2013-14 season. They each have gotten off to positive starts during non-conference play and still have about one month to continue to improve until the conference portion of their schedules begin.

Basketball beat reporters Brian Earle and Frank Gogola debate which Huskies team will have the better season.

Brian Earle: After the poor display men’s basketball put together last year, I had my doubts about them coming into this season. To this point, I have been pleasantly surprised with their play on the court, leading me to think they will be a much better team this season.

The biggest difference from a year ago is their personnel and style of play. With the additions of redshirt junior centers Jordan Threloff, Pete Rakocevic and freshman center Marin Maric, the Huskies have an inside presence they have not had in years.

This allows them to play inside-out, which allows their big men to take over in the post or kick the ball out to open shooters on the perimeter. Threloff has already come in and made huge contributions, scoring 9.7 points per game off the bench. What is women’s basketball looking like this season?

Frank Gogola: I’ll tell you one thing: A 7-23 record last season for head coach Kathi Bennett’s squad was not a good thing; however, just like men’s basketball, the women worked hard during the offseason, and their improvement is showing on the court.

The 14-woman roster is split evenly down the middle between returners and newcomers. Junior guard Amanda Corral highlights the returners.

Corral, who played point guard last season, led the team in scoring (12.7), rebounds (5.0) and assists (2.0) per game, but she has moved back to her natural position of shooting guard and leads the team in scoring (15.0), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.5).

Junior forward Natecia Augusta, another returner, has already posted three double-doubles in six games, averaging 9.7 points per game and eight rebounds per game.

The Huskies also have back the three-point shooting of sophomore guard Alexis Lindstrom, the defense of redshirt junior forward Jenna Thorp and an increased scoring clip with redshirt junior guard Danny Pulliam.

BE: The men’s team has taken positive strides early on this season, which leads me to believe they will reach at least double-digit wins for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Their 2-4 record may not reflect it, but they have been competitive in every game they have played this season. In their first win over San Jose State, the Huskies showed promise by closing out the game by hitting free throws and making plays down the stretch. In their second win over Saint Joseph’s (Ind.), they recorded 111 points. That was the first time NIU has reached the century mark since 2005.

In their loss to Big 10 opponent Nebraska, they played all the way down to the wire on the road and had a chance to tie it and send it into overtime. I see some promise in this Huskies squad moving


FG: Through six games this season, the women sit at 3-3. They also have left a win on the court and could easily be 4-2. Two of their losses came by 20-or-more points, and one came by only four points in a high-scoring affair at New Mexico State on Friday.

In that loss, they played a fast-paced, back-and-forth game, but faltered on the defensive end down the stretch.

They have been a strong defensive team under Bennett in the past three years, giving up only 59.5 points per game last season; however, last season’s offense was not that great, as they averaged only 54.3 points per game, and they came into this season looking to become more of an offensive threat to go along with the defense.

In their first three games they gave up an average of 69.7 points per game and scored only 56.3, but in their last three games they have allowed only 63 points per game and posted 71.7 points per game.

BE: A big advantage men’s basketball has this year as opposed to last is it has a plethora of scorers.

Last season, the Huskies depended on former wing Adbel Nader to score the bulk of the points, as he led the team with 13.1 points per game. The next highest scorer for NIU was now-senior forward Aksel Bolin at 7.4 points per game.

This season, the Huskies have six players who average more than seven points per game. They are led by sophomore wing Darrell Bowie with 10.5 points per game.

The Huskies don’t have a star player, so on any given night someone different can step up to lead the team.

FG: The women’s team is also able to spread the ball around, as they have four scorers averaging seven or more points per game and have had three players lead the team in scoring in six games.

They are outrebounding their opponents, 42-40 on average, and are winning the turnover battle with a plus-2.3 margin per game.

The men have six non-conference games remaining, while the women only have four games before their conference play begins.

Both teams have gotten off to better starts than imagined and must keep improving and play sound basketball if they want to continue their path to a better season than last year.