Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois basketball preview

Normally I'll try to get this up before day of, but, uh, BASKETBALL SEASON! I have a football one coming later.

This will be kind of like the week of posts before football games compacted into one short, sweet post on the upcoming game: who to look out for on the other team, whether NU should be worried, and what silly things we can make fun of about the other team.

Are they good?: Hey! It's the first game of the year! Any team can be good! Right? Right? Wait, no. Northern Illinois will not be good this year. Since Ricardo Patton took over, the Huskies have been pretty dismal. In his three years at the helm, the Huskies have never finished above fifth in the MAC West conference, which, uh, has six teams, and isn't that great. Their best record has been 10-20, which they've had the past two years. Nothing has drastically changed - in fact, the team loses three starters from last year, and one of the other starters, Lee Fisher, will not play tonight as he has an ankle injury. Last year, the squad went 10-20, including a fascinating 9-game losing streak right in the heart of MAC play after a decent 8-9 start.

Who they got?: The one and only Northern Illinois player to watch for is Xavier Silas. In Skip Myslenski's game preview, Bill Carmody pointed out that Silas is a great player and a certain second-round draft pick. This proves one thing: that Bill Carmody and I read different draft prediction websites, because, uh, nobody thinks Silas is anywhere close to a second-rounder, but that's besides the point. Silas started out at the University of Colorado, where he started most of his games in his first two years, but was dismissed from the team for reasons nobody can quite be sure. He sat out last year, and was one of the best players in the MAC: the 6-foot-5 shooting guard averaged 19.7 points per game, second best in the conference, and was an honorable mention all-conference player. He then promptly declared for the draft, then realized he wouldn't get drafted, so, he's back. (Coble!) He's not a particularly efficient shooter - 32 percent from 3, 38 percent form the field overall - but gets to the line a lot. He uses up 30 percent of NIU's possessions when he's on the floor - that's a lot, for the record - and turns the ball over 15 percent of the time a possession ends in his hands, so, remember, approximately five percent of all NIU possessions end with him turning the ball over. He'll probably put up about 15 points, but if NU plays zone, he'll probably end up hurting his team by hoisting shots when he can't drive. Look at his game last year against NU for good measure: he had 18 points - on 15 shots, 1-7 from 3 - and fouled out of the game EVEN THOUGH HE BROKE HIS HAND DURING THE COURSE OF PLAY. That's dedication to fouling.

Us and them: Last year, NU opened the season with NIU, and it was a blowout, 77-55. Jeremy Nash had 20 points - pretty much all you need to know about the game, just two short of his career high - in a game where NU shot 48 free throws, making 34, both highs in the Carmody era. NU is 8-2 all-time against Northern Illinois, so, despite the Cats' comical lack of basketball success, they've done well against the boys from DeKalb.

Difference between the amount of times we've been to the NCAA tournament and the amount of times they have: 3. But none since 1996, when they lost to Texas Tech in the first round. NIU doesn't have much in the way of basketball tradition: only five NBA players have come from NIU, none since 1998, and none for more than three years. Evan Eschmeyer would own them.

Good things to know: NIU is in DeKalb, Illinois, if you didn't know already, which is 91 minutes away from NU according to Google Maps. Notable NIU alums include Dan Castellanetta, the dude from the Simpsons, and Dennis Hastert, who is some type of political person but who cares about that. NIU football actually isn't that bad - even though NU is 6-1 against them all time, with the latest win in 2005 - they've gone to two bowl games under Jerry Kill, who took over the gig in 2007, although they've lost both, meaning their bowl streak dates back to 2004. Horrible, right? That being said, we've won three Big Ten championships since they won their last MAC one in 1983, so, deal with it, homes.

Where they be: Basketball games are held in the well named NIU Convocation Center, where Convocation is presumably held, but also basketball games. It's actually larger than Welsh-Ryan, seating 10,000. NU is the first Big Ten team ever to actually go and play there.

Good names: Nothing to write home about. The best names on the team are Tyler Storm - the quiet storm, considering he averaged 2.2 points and 1.2 rebounds last year at a backup power forward spot - and Aksel Bolin, a freshman guard who is the only Norwegian basketball player I can think of off the top of his head, and who probably shoots a lot of fadeaway jumpers while yelling "BOLLLIN!"

Anything to look for? Everything to look for. It's the first game of the season. I probably won't see it. But I'm still excited just to hear about Northwestern basketball. Apparently we're now playing a man - interesting to see how that deals with Silas, a guard scorer and the type of guy who might benefit from one-on-one play against less athletic defenders - but I think it should work out fine.

Should we win?: Easily. NU is a much better team. Start 1-0, move on from there.

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