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2014-2015 MAC Men's Basketball: Northern Illinois Huskies

The progress was evident in DeKalb last year. Can the Huskies find some much-needed offense to surge ahead even more this year?

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

We're getting closer.

That's the overall sentiment most Northern Illinois Huskies fans are feeling heading into this basketball season.  That's the overall sentiment fourth-year head coach Mark Montgomery is feeling.

"Last year's journey was definitely to get to the MAC tournament in Cleveland," Montgomery said at the team's media day. "This year we are looking to take it a step further."

Last year was the all-important third year for Montgomery and his old school style in DeKalb: the year that everyone looks to following the hire of a new coach to see the progress being made; the year when the new coach has his recruits firmly in place.

What transpired was the largest win total increase in school history (10) from the previous season, and the 10th largest increase in the nation last year.  NIU's 15-17 record stands as the best mark the Huskies have hit since the out-of-nowhere division title team in 2005-06.  NIU was the best rebounding team in the conference last year and the second-best defensive club (Avg. PPG).  The third year worked.

And everyone is back this year.

More specifically, the top six scorers from last year's team (a poor offensive team, granted) are back.  Ten lettermen are back.  Interest is back.  But interest is fickle, and relies on success to stay high.

For his fourth year, Montgomery will turn to the same formula that worked so well last year: defense and rebounding.  Center Jordan Threloff is the key to both, with Darrell Bowie working alongside him at the power forward position.

Dontel Highsmith, who is slated to return from a torn ACL, looks to build off of a stellar first eleven games of his college career, where he led the Huskies is scoring (and still did at year's end despite missing the entire conference season).  The Armstead brothers (Aaron the elder, Aaric the younger) possess more scoring potential for a team that will need it.

Two transfers could be the difference for this years' club.  Anthony Johnson sat out last year after transferring from Purdue, will share time at the two guard with Aaron Armstead and Highsmith.  Michael Orris comes over from Kansas State, battling Travon Baker at the point.

In a team that features very few changes on the floor, the biggest change is the floor itself.  Look at this thing.  That is bone-chilling.  Those eyes... just staring... deep into your soul...

"Corey, wake up!  You have a preview to finish!!!"

*snaps awake*

NIU basketball has become the thorn in the Mid-American Conference's side.  The team that can take another out of its system...frustrate them, annoy them, piss them the hell off.  The team that you dread to see.  The team you don't want to see if you absolutely need to win.  You know how the rest of the MAC fans feel about the football program?  NIU basketball is inching closer to that.

If the Huskies are going to be more than that...more than the pain in the ass team that drags you down to a crawl and slowly smothers you to death, they need to score.  More.  A lot more.  That's the next hurdle to get by.  If the Huskies can hit outside shots and play at a faster pace more frequently...look out.  A better offense for NIU, heck, an average offense would do, and the thorn grows barbs.

A winning season is doable, which is most certainly the next step up Montgomery is looking for.  A deeper run into the MAC tournament is possible, too.

I don't know if this all comes together this season.  But I do know we're closer than we have been in a long, long time.