Despite struggles, men’s hoops showing improvement

By Brian Belford

NIU hasn’t had a good basketball team as of late.

The program has only been in the NCAA tournament three times since it’s inception in 1926, and each time the team was bounced in the first round.

So far this season has done nothing to change that their perception. The Huskies have won only twice in 15 games this year so far, and on paper, the season looks like it can be chalked up as another failure.

This season might be just that, but the future of the program has been getting brighter ever since NIU exercised a demon in firing former coach Ricardo Patton is, and hired Mark Montgomery as his successor last March.

In four seasons as head coach, Patton went 35-83, all while alienating recruits and even his own players during his tenure.

Much of that negativity instantly changed the moment Montgomery was brought in as head coach.

Bringing in his professionalism that he learned in 10 seasons coaching under Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Montgomery’s candid confidence has re-established recruiting ties and brought back a belief that winning seasons can happen at NIU.

But even Montgomery, with his penchant for good vibes and fresh thinking, has a lot on his plate when faced with fixing this program after it being left on life support by Patton.

Patton gutted the roster, that seven freshman see playing time on the floor for NIU, resulting in the team averaging 17 turnovers a game, shooting 37 percent from the field, and only 30 percent from beyond the arc.

But despite all the lost games, the bad shooting and the steep learning curve caused by the abundance of freshman, this program is headed in the right direction, especially after an encouraging win over Central Michigan this past Saturday.

In that game, Abdel Nader, an All-State selection by the Chicago Tribune and one of the best recruits signed by Montgomery, lived up to his billing, scoring the first 13 points of the game, and sometimes knocking down shots with three defenders in his face.

Another freshman, Stian Berg, finally solidified the point guard position, and made all four of his three point attempts in that game.

It appears NIU might have a sharpshooter to take the scoring pressure off of senior forward Tim Toler, who has been at times this year, the only Huskies player to score in double digits.

NIU shot the lights out in the game against Central Michigan, and it is able to play like that in every game here on out, it won’t lose many more games.

That type of consistency is a lot to ask for.

However, so encouraging was the win against Central Michigan that this team may become a formidable force to reckon with in the future. This is still true if Montgomery can keep signing good recruits.

With that in mind, I would encourage every NIU basketball fan out there to be very patient with this team for the remainder of this season.

These players work hard, and it’s draining to them every time they lose a game, but they still deserve your support.

So enjoy the little things. Enjoy it when all five players touch the ball on an offensive possession, enjoy it when point guard Zach Miller dishes out five assists in a game, or when freshman guard Marquavese Ford comes into the game and knocks down a clutch three pointer.

Because let’s face it: This team will be lucky to make it to ten wins the way they started the year.

There have been 17 winning seasons in the basketball programs history at NIU, four in a row from 1978 to 1982 under head coach John McDougal.

You can win at NIU, and I believe in time, Montgomery will deliver a competitive program that wins on a yearly basis.

For now, please be patient. The program just needs some time to grow.