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Line Drills: Regaining Your Trust One Game at a Time - MAC Preview for Tuesday, February 4

Join Tom, Keith, and an unholy host of literary references as we preview the Miami / Northern Illinois game that has surprising importance in the MAC race.

John Cooper and his RedHawks have overcome early struggles to surprise in the first half of MAC play.
John Cooper and his RedHawks have overcome early struggles to surprise in the first half of MAC play.

"When a forest grows too wild, a purging file is inevitable and natural."

It's not the first Batman related quote you've seen on Line Drills, and it probably won't be the last. The momentum behind Tom & Keith's tidal wave of successes in weeks 2 & 3 of the MAC conference season was, in the eyes of Mother Nature, too much. A chosen few are blessed with the gift of clairvoyance - the oracles at Delphi, Nostradamus, Professor Trelawney - but the rest of us are only allowed the occasional 25-cent peep show into the course of human events. When your Line Drills team came too close to prophetic vision, we were smote with an 0-6 bolt of humble pie-flavored lightning this past weekend.

And yet, like Sisyphus pushing the rock, we set about our task again. Like the Six Hundred riding valiantly into the Valley of Death, we fear not the impossible. Like Keno Davis trying to win a game, we scream into the mouth of the abyss.

Let's see - we've got Ra's al Ghul, Tennyson, Homer, Ovid, and Rowling... that's probably about enough mixing of an unsavory literary bouillabaisse. Shall we get back to picking the games?

(Season record: 17-25. Full transparency, people - that's what we're all about)

Miami (-1.5) @ Northern Illinois

As long as we're on the subject of failed prognostication, let's return to January 15th - less than 3 weeks ago. These two putative doormats of the MAC each stood at 1-2 in conference, each having played a strong but losing effort that day. Miami lost by only 7 to Akron, and NIU took Kent State to overtime before falling. Had you asked me at that point - and you can't prove that you did - I would have guessed a season TOTAL of about 8 conference wins for the ‘Hawks and Huskies.

You remember back then, right? The RedHawks two best players from 2012-13 decided to transfer. They had four division I wins... and a non-division I home loss! Meanwhile in DeKalb, the Huskies had also lost their best player to transfer in the offseason. They were a slightly more respectable 7-8, but spirits were low with the loss of leading scorer Dontel Highsmith to an ACL tear in December.

Fast forward to now, and I'll be darned if this game doesn't actually mean something! Eight conference wins already between these two, and at the very least they're each hoping to host a first round tournament game on their home campuses. Barring a complete collapse, the season should be labelled a success for each of these squads.

A complete collapse... like the Huskies had last year, when they didn't win a game after January in an 0-11 finish to the season. They had started - you guessed it, 3-4 in conference. I'll bet that's at least a little on the collective Husky mind. Of course it was a completely different story in Oxford last season, where Miami started - you're right again, 3-5 in conference and then lost their last 8 consecutive regular season MAC games.

So there are exciting current season factors, and shadows of the recent past, coming together to make an interesting story line in the MAC spotlight dance for Tuesday. As for actual game play, NIU figures to have a solid edge on the glass, though whether or not they can actually intimidate Miami's frontcourt scorers (like Will Felder) is unclear. While the Husky guards have stepped up their scoring recently, the edge at the guard position is clearly with the RedHawks. I have been enamored of the RedHawks guard rotation for some time, and I think they're especially likely to be effective against a team near the bottom of the MAC in turnover margin. Miami can also shoot well enough, including a blistering 81% from the charity stripe, to avoid long droughts that could let a lower scoring team like Northern Illinois hang around.

Should be a terrific game, continuing a fantastic stretch of incredibly entertaining MAC basketball.

The pick: Miami -1.5.