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Northern Illinois aims to stay undefeated in MAC against Toledo

Toledo's potent offense will look to snap a pair of strong defensive showings by Northern Illinois to climb over .500 in MAC play

Travon Baker (right) has scored big to lead the Huskies through the start of its MAC schedule
Travon Baker (right) has scored big to lead the Huskies through the start of its MAC schedule
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois, who is absolutely not messing around this year, is two games into MAC play, and hasn't shown any sign that its 11-2 non-conference record was a fluke.

Travon Baker has back-to-back 25 point games. Marin Maric is averaging 13.7 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. The team hasn't lost at home.

Now all it has to do is hold its own on the road against the second ranked team in the preseason MAC West poll.

If it does, it will become the first team to 3-0 in MAC competition this season, and would secure its first 3-0 conference start since 2009.

It won't be an easy road, though. Toledo has won three straight games at Savage Arena, scoring over 95 points per game in that span. The Rockets were paced in that span by junior guard Jonathan Williams, who registered 20+ point performances in two of those three wins, and whose second half surge against played a crucial role in helping Toledo run away from Northern Kentucky.

Even then, however, Williams arguably hasn't been Toledo's most consistent offensive weapon. That title could very well belong to senior center Nathan Boothe, who is second on the team with 18.5 points per game, but holds the best shooting percentage (41.2%) and rebounding average (8.8) on the squad.

Toledo was forced to go on the road for its first two MAC contests, where results were mixed. It was pushed around pretty well by Ball State in its MAC opener, but found its footing against Miami to even itself out at .500.

The most fun thing to keep an eye on early in this game will be looking for which big man wins the battle inside the paint. Boothe and Maric are each listed at 250 pounds at heights of 6'9" and 6'10" respectively, and have been vital foundations for how each team establishes itself early in the game. They're also fairly equal in terms of the fouls they accumulate, so it won't be easy for either team to knock the other out of the game.

It's Northern Illinois' defense, however, that is most likely to be the difference in this game. The Huskies are giving up 62.5 points per game this season, good for 16th best in the country, and No. 1 in the MAC. Toledo, meanwhile, is not adept at winning defensive bouts, going 0-4 when scoring 70 points or fewer.

It's just two games into MAC play, so the sample size is small. But the fact that Northern Illinois is the only team outside of Akron to start 2-0 is a meaningful fact. If it goes into Toledo's home and emerges on top, it will only separate the Huskies further from the bulk of what is a parity-filled conference in January.