A Huskiewire tweet at the tipoff of Northern Illinois' basketball game against Division III Carthage College — a teensy tiny school in Kenosha, Wisconsin — acted as harbinger for what might happen: "One thing's clear: #
NIU isn't bigger, physically than Carthage. Not a good sign. Here's the tip." Indeed, NIU's tallest player is only 6'7". They're a VERY small team. CC's center is just as tall, if not thicker. But on size alone the game was ridiculously even.
That size kept them alive in the rebounding game, plus helped them block 10 shots and force 17 turnovers. They began the game on a 10-0 run, although NIU finishing the half on a 32-9 spurt seemed to think they're going to have this game in hand, and our alarms would be for naught.
Of course, our fears finally caught up to us as Carthage rallied to force overtime, winning it 74-70.
Best I can tell the last exhibition game a MAC team dropped was 2009 when Toledo lost to Central State 56-49 — a game I was at. The same story applied; a young team with a lack of size inside kept them playing catch-up. The Huskies have four upperclassmen, none of them named Xavier Silas. They're going to be reliant on Tim Toler making shots; he did sink his free throws and a good number of twos but he was 0-for-5 from the 3-point line, and without that they won't have much else.
But Carthage also fell into some fortunate shooting of their own. They were 41.9% accurate from it, connecting on a total of 13 treys.
If you're a fan of the MAC, it's easy (and certainly okay) to be happy for Carthage in this situation. Exhibitions don't count for anything except bragging rights. Butler and West Virginia also lost exhibition games this year; eventual-one-seed Syracuse famously lost to a Division II schoool to begin the 2009-10 season. The 'L' means nothing in and of itself, so there's no shame in flipping the advantage of disparity the other way. In this case, Goliath was in DeKalb, as much as it never appeared that way to us.
And this is certainly what new coach Mike Montgomery has in front of him. He said he's not going to care much about how many wins they get this year — which is good because four would be a miracle — so as long as we can all agree that the team isn't rebuilding so much as it's sifting through surveryors' estimates, then we can properly judge the progress of this team.