The NIU men’s basketball team is, potentially, three games away from an NCAA bid.
Standing in the way are seven familiar foes.
As NIU prepares for the Mid-Continent Tournament at Cleveland this weekend—with its accompanying automatic NCAA bid for the titlist—head coach Brian Hammel and his squad feel they’re not overmatched.
“We don’t fear anyone going into the tournament,” Hammel said. “I don’t believe we’ve been out of a conference game all year.”
NIU had a 5-9 record against the seven Mid-Con teams in the tourney, with at least one win against every squad except Wright State and Wisconsin-Green Bay.
This is how NIU (11-16, 7-9—No. 6 seed) matched up with the seven:
UW-GB (23-3, 14-2) No. 1 seed. Green Bay swept both matches against the Huskies, winning 58-43 and 78-70. But the Phoenix have had problems recently.
Two players—seldom-used reserve Chris Yates and redshirt guard Tory Smith—have been recently arrested and starting guard John Martinez is out for the tourney with a knee injury. Also, rumors are growing that head coach Dick Bennett will soon take another job, possibly at Wisconsin.
Akron (16-11, 10-6) No. 2 seed. NIU split against the Zips, winning 75-56 at Chick Evans Field House and dropping an 82-69 decision on the road.
Illinois-Chicago (14-12, 10-6) No. 3 seed. The Huskies also split against their first-round opponent, winning 85-81 at the fieldhouse and losing 95-90 at the Pavilion.
Wright State (15-12, 9-7) No. 4 seed. NIU lost both games against the Raiders, 78-70 (away) and 84-70 at home.
Eastern Illinois (13-13, 8-7) No. 5 seed. The Panthers and Huskies each won on the other team’s home court. (A 76-67 NIU win and a 65-61 EIU win.)
Cleveland State (14-12, 7-9) No. 7 seed. NIU and the Vikings also both won on their opponent’s home court, with NIU winning 82-77 and losing 71-55.
Western Illinois (16-16, 4-11) No. 8 seed. Each squad won its home game. NIU won 82-77 at the fieldhouse and lost 71-66 at Western.