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2016 MAC Basketball Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies

Coach Mark Montgomery looks to get over the 20 win mark again

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For just the fourth time in their history, NIU reached a postseason tournament. Coach Montgomery has been to plenty, having spent a decade as an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. As a player under Spartan’s legend, Jud Heathcoat, he went to the postseason all 4 years.

He brought that winning attitude with him to DeKalb. After a couple rough seasons, and a couple so-so ones, he took NIU over the 20 win mark, and led them to their first tournament in 21 years last year. There is reason to think this will be the new normal, at least as long as Montgomery is the coach.

Going into this season, NIU returns 3 players that averaged over 10 points a game.

At Center, Marin Maric averaged 11.9 points, and 8.4 rebounds. That was good enough to put him on the All-MAC third team. Aaric Armstead returns at guard. His defensive play was good enough to earn him a spot on the MAC All-Defensive team. He also contributed 10.9 points a game. Marshawn Wilson had a fantastic freshman season, averaging 11 points a game and shooting 41.3% from beyond the arc. That was good enough to earn him a spot on the MAC All-Freshman team. Not bad for a kid that only started the last 9 games of the season. That’s a great core to start a season.

Jaylen Key and Levi Bradley both averaged over 5 points and 3 rebounds for the Huskies, and should contribute this season, as well. Laytwan Porter averaged 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals as a freshman. That’s good news for a team that is looking for a point guard.

The non-conference schedule is worth mentioning. Along with hosting a tournament of no-bodies, they get a long list of no-bodies. That should give them a good record and confidence going into the MAC season. I would be shocked if they don’t have 9 wins going into conference play. The most notable game on the schedule is at Minnesota. I would think that is virtually a must win if the Huskies have any desire to get an at-large bid.

Playing in the MAC west, we could see them rack up 25ish wins, and make it tough for the committee to leave them out. Depending on what the rest of the MAC does, their R.P.I. could be too low, even with that many wins.

A lot of people think the MAC west is going to be down this season. I am not one of them. I think Coach Hawkins will return to his winning ways at WMU. I believe EMU has one of the best players in the conference, and he is a big man you can build a team around. Ball State and NIU both seemed to turn corners last season. Toledo is a can’t call it, and CMU will hover around .500 on the season.

I am predicting one of the better seasons the MAC has had in recent memory, and my hope is that 3 teams can make the big dance. My prediction is two will. I am just going to guarantee it right now, at least one does.

In any case, Merry Basketball Eve, folks. I can’t wait for the season to get started.