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MAC Basketball Season Review: Northern Illinois' Failures Systematic in Nature

Unless a miracle happens, the season will end for all the men's teams in the MAC sometime this weekend. Time to start looking back at the seasons for each of the 12 teams.

Northern Illinois
5-26 Overall, 3-13 MAC
Finish: 6th in the MAC West, 12th overall.
MAC Tournament: Lost in the second round to Western Michigan.

Northern Illinois wasn't expecting to do much this season. This is a full-on rebuilding team in DeKalb, although you would have liked to see some better results on the court.

It wasn't like Northern was scheduling world beaters this season. Seeing SIU-Edwardsville, or Utah Valley State on the schedule doesn't make anyone cringe in fear.

But for some reason, the young Huskies team didn't have the leader who could get them past these national doormats.

The Huskies couldn't even beat transitional Division 1 school Nebraska-Omaha, and needed a January game against Roosevelt to get the zero out of the win column. This likely wasn't the start that first-year coach Mark Montgomery expected from his team.

To fully understand the Huskies' pain, you have to go backward, to the end of the 2009-2010 season. The Huskies were supposed to return over 90 percent of their scoring for 2010. They were supposed to improve.

And they could have been. Jake Anderson could have been back to complement Xavier Silas. Mike DiNunno could have returned as a viable third scoring option (albeit without a lot of defense).

The Huskies could have been different last year. It could have helped younger players improve season over season. In short, the 2011-12 season didn't need to feel like Northern Illinois was starting over.

But that isn't what happened.

Instead, a motley crew of mostly freshmen and sophomores had to go up against teams heavy in upperclassmen. The Huskies were outmatched at every position. Ten different players started at least 2 games, and Tim Toler, who ended the season as the top average scorer for the Huskies, was tossed from the team midway through the season.

You can learn some things by doing, but playing basketball at the top level might not be one of them, at least if you go by Northern's record. That said, by the end of the year, the Huskies were competitive against the bottom half of the league.

They even won that MAC Tournament game, which should give them some confidence rolling into next season, when again more than half the players will be young and still trying to figure out college basketball.

Gone: Leaving the team will be Toler (obviously), Tyler Storm and DeMarcus Grady.

Grady is no big loss. He would join the team following football season, play sparingly, and generally in garbage time. In short, thanks for suiting up, enjoy the nice parting gifts.

Tyler Storm is a lesson in how the Huskies didn't develop over the last four seasons. Storm was a part-time starter his freshman year, but never really found a groove. His less than stellar defense, or shooting ability likely played a part in that. By his sophomore year, he was a marginal player at best, averaging less than 10 minutes per game. That didn't really get better until this season when an improved offensive game allowed him to actually break over 0 on the HOOPWAR scale for the first time in his career.

You have to wonder if with more senior leadership (Northern has had just 9 seniors in the past four years, with only Silas turning in significant numbers), Storm could have improved over his four seasons and become something more than just a bench warmer. If the program had more continuity, could Storm have become a headline writer's dream? Storm had other mid-major offers, at better schools than Northern. He could have taken those, but stayed home. He was rated the best small forward coming into the MAC in the class of 2008, by Rivals.

And yet, a total of -2.7 HOOPWAR was all that Storm will leave Northern Illinois with.

Bright spots: If there were any bright spots, it was the play of Abdel Nader, who led the Huskies in HOOPWAR. After Toler's departure he led the team in scoring, although he wore down over the course of the long college season. Another year of conditioning should help the MAC All-Freshman team member become stronger and last through the year. As it was, he still turned in the best performance that Northern Illinois has seen from a freshman in the last four season. That is the very definition of bright spot.

In addition, Aksel Bolin stepped up during the latter part of the season to provide some scoring for the Huskies. He was instrumental in the MAC Tournament upset, and should be a strong member of the front line for next year.


1. I have to wonder if next year, I will write the same epitaph for Tony Nixon's career that I just wrote above for Tyler Storm. Nixon plays more and has found his game a year earlier than Storm, but he has been hampered by the same turnover in the Northern Illinois program. This was a teammate of D.J. Cooper in high school, who helped lead his team to the state title. This was a player who could have chosen Illinois, or some better mid-major schools, such as George Mason.

And yet, he too went the Northern Illinois route and it has landed him here, far from where Cooper and the Bobcats have gone in their time together. He may not have had the raw ability of Cooper, to be the team leader who can move a program to a Sweet 16 berth, but Nixon certainly had the talent to have become more than he has shown so far.

Maybe he will develop before his final season, with a little continuity and the knowledge that he is the senior leadership, albeit one without a good deal of success. He showed improvement late in the season, and that is certainly a good sign.

2. Can this team get back to the nine wins that it had in 2010-11? It seemed possible with the schedule, that a team of mostly underclassmen could still pull even with the last team under Ricardo Patton. It didn't happen. But with the way the team played late in the year, if it can stay together, they have a shot at bettering that nine wins next season.

They lose no impact players (and well, they didn't really have any). They will be immediately better than Central Michigan who will get much worse before they get better. They proved they could compete with the top team in their division, Eastern Michigan, every time they were on the floor. And they got wins over Miami (who loses its top player) and Toledo. There is a chance they could get to 6 wins in the MAC alone, which would be a huge step over where this team was coming into the year.

Maybe next season can end with 2 games in Cleveland.