Men’s basketball has more options than last season

By Brian Earle

Following two disappointing seasons in which men’s basketball won a combined 10 games, things could be looking up for NIU this season.

Despite their record after four games, the Huskies (1-3) have been competitive in every game they’ve played. In each loss, they easily could have come away with a victory.

They fell to Nebraska Omaha in their season opener by two points and James Madison in the first game of the NIU Invitational by five points.

The Huskies could have come out on top in both of those games had they shot a better percentage from the free-throw line. Their 82-69 loss against Milwaukee is deceiving because it was a back-and-forth game for the second half. The Huskies had a 14-point lead in the first half but just couldn’t close the game out.

If the Huskies can learn to close out games down the stretch, I can see them reaching double-digit victories for the first time since 2009-2010. That has to do with the Huskies taking strides and having more players score on a consistent basis.

Already this season, the Huskies have had three players set new career-highs in points. Sophomore wing Darrell Bowie scored 19 points against Milwaukee, redshirt junior center Jordan Threloff scored 17 points and sophomore guard Daveon Balls added 15 points of his own against San Jose State.

Some of the Huskies’ new additions have made contributions right away.

Junior guard Aaron Armstead has come in and become a starter, averaging 8.3 points, while freshman guard Dontel Highsmith has been a sixth man who averages six points a game.

“We have no stars,” said coach Mark Montgomery. “We’re a team that any given day or given night it could be your opportunity to step up and make plays. And I can live with that. We’re going to be dangerous to scout and beat when multiple guys have good days.”

The Huskies’ size down low is a luxury they have missed in recent years. With the additions of Threloff, redshirt junior center Pete Rakocevic and freshman center Marin Maric, the Huskies have three viable options down low. That gives them three guys who are 6-foot-9 or taller who can control the boards down low as well as affect shots on the defensive end.

Threloff has averaged 5.5 rebounds per game, Rakocevic grabs 5.3 rebounds per game and Maric averages two rebounds while he’s on the floor.

Due to the Huskies’ size this season, they have a number of versatile lineups they can put on the floor.

They can go big or they can go small and put Balls and guard Travon Baker on the floor at the same time. This allows them to match up with any opponent they face.

While the roster is still a work in progress, the Huskies are making the right strides and should see an increase in wins this season.