Not too many experts or casual fans alike would have expected Northern Illinois to have a better record than the Ohio Bobcats heading into conference play. NIU's 6-5 record marks the first time since the 2005-2006 season that the Huskies had a winning record heading into MAC play.
In spite of Ohio's losing record, the 'Cats are 4-2 at home, and can start with somewhat of a clean slate as they look to start off with a win in what is destined to be a hard-fought MAC East. Ohio has won its last seven games with NIU, which includes a 65-46 victory over the Huskies in January.
Maurice Ndour and Javarez Willis come in as the men to stop for the Huskies as each average over 15 points a game. Willis has been a consistent 3-point threat after initially struggling to find his footing in Athens in the 2013-2014 season. It was towards the end of Ohio's schedule a year ago that Bobcat fans and media alike began to see what Willis was capable offensively (already knowing that the quick Willis was a standout defensive player).
Ohio has had a week of rest since a 72-53 win over UNC-Wilimington in which Ndour played to his capabilities with 23 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. The dominant second half was reminiscent of the thrashing of DePaul that saw Ohio enforce its collective will on an overwhelmed Blue Demons defense.
The 'Cats will take on a Huskies squad that has at times this season impressed, and has as much optimism heading into MAC play as could be expected. NIU's Anthony Johnson and Travon Baker put up season highs of 18 and 15 respectively in the scoring column last time out against UC Riverside.
The Huskies leading scorer, Darrell Bowie, was injured in the UC Riverside contest, but was listed as day-to-day, and could very well see action against the Bobcats. Bowie is tallying 12.1 points per game. Quickness of hand is one thing Ohio will have to be wary of in this one. Five Huskies have at least 10 steals, with the team causing 15.8 turnovers a game (though they commit 15 a game themselves). The 'Cats will likely be hard-pressed to keep the gargantuan Jordan Threloff off the boards, as the 6'9" 255-pounder is averaging 8.9 points a game and 8.2 rebounds a game. The 'Cats will also look to stop Anthony Johnson and the Armsteads, Aaric and Aaron who together are averaging 16.9 points per contest.