The shakedown on the Mid-Con


With the NIU men’s basketball team preparing to take on the Mid-Continent Conference, it’s time to evaluate what the opposition has up their sleeves.

“I think the conference is extremely strong, getting better and better every year,” said NIU head coach Brian Hammel.

The pre-season polls have UIC and Cleveland State as the one-two teams in the conference and Hammel agrees

“I think Cleveland State and UIC are terrific. Either one of those teams have been mentioned as far as the premier team in the conference,” Hammel said.

There are several teams in the league that the Huskies have to be aware of.

UIC looks to be in the conference drivers seat with a ton of talent. The obvious place to begin on this team is with point guard Kenny Williams.

He averaged 21.7 points and dished out five assists last season. Forward Sherell Ford had a “decent” year for the Flames averaging 18.8 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.

Both have been voted as Pre-Season All-Conference picks.

Cleveland State is not far behind with 6-foot-nine-inch Sam Mitchell, the league’s most dominating post player and with four other players at 6-8 or taller, the Vikings will trounce all over smaller teams in the league.

Wisconsin-Green Bay is making an attempt to earn back the recognition they once had as one of the premier teams in the conference.

Starting point guard John Martinez is back after missing last season with a knee injury. They also picked up some transfers that should make an immediate impact; most notably Chris Westlake who averaged 24 points at Rock Valley Community College.

Wright State is another school that could give everyone fits with two premier players in Mike Nahar and Sean Hammonds.

Nahar is 7-feet tall and has a great shot (16.2 ppg). Hammonds sat out last season with a knee injury, but is back to reclaim his starting spot.

From there the obvious direction is down, way down.

Youngstown State should cause no problem for the Huskies. They really couldn’t cause problems for anybody. They are 9-45 in the past two seasons including a 3-23 ledger last season.

Western Illinois has begun their rebuilding process, literally – 11 of the 13 players on the team are new. That leaves very few people who can remember the 7-20 record they posted last year, but they will probably receive a refresher course this season.

As for the Huskies, Hammel hopes his team can surprise a few people and take the conference crown.

“I project us near the top if not at the top,” Hammel commented. “I think we have the ability to strive for the Mid-Continent Conference title. There is no doubt in my mind, when we go into this year, when we talk about playing as a team, we’re talking about playing for all the marbles.”

“All the marbles” includes making it past the first round of the Mid-Con tourney, which the Huskies failed to do last season.

“You have to say ‘okay, this is a new year, this is a new day, this is a new game. Let’s lace them up and get after them again,'” Hammel said. “I think we need to go into this year with that in the back of our mind.”