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Ohio Bobcats vs. Northern Illinois Huskies men's basketball preview: Is NIU the real deal?

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The story here is that the Huskies are off to one of their best starts in years. Can an effective Ohio offense get NIU out of rhythm and bring them back down to earth in DeKalb?

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Ohio Bobcats and Northern Illinois Huskies

Where: NIU Convocation Center - DeKaleb, Illinois

When: Wednesday 7:00 p.m. (CT)

Ohio Bobcats

Winners of five straight, the Bobcats come in confident. At 9-3 and riding a five-game win streak, Saul Phillips and crew are looking to start conference play on a much better note than last year.

Ohio is scoring 80.2 points per game and is playing at a high level offensively. The skill of newcomers Jaaron Simmons, Kenny Kaminski and Jordan Dartis have greatly complemented big man Antonio Campbell, who needs to continue to improve upon his consistently good play. With the 'Cats scoring at a high clip, getting to (and making free throws) and having several options to take over offensively, they might just be the most formidable opponent on  NIU's schedule so far.

The 'Cats need to play with energy from the very beginning and remain focused. Any lulls could mean turnovers and a clunky offense that is too dependent on tough shots and gets away from getting the ball to the bucket. Ohio really must maintain possession of the ball, and Phillips' work and coaching of point guard Simmons could potentially shine through in conference play.

Ultimately, Ohio wants this game to have a lot of possessions. With five 10+ point scorers, the 'Cats are going to need more of the same to beat the Huskies, the best team they've played since November.

Northern Illinois Huskies

Are the NIU Huskies for real? How can we know? Well, we'll have a better idea after this one Wednesday night.

Coach Mark Montgomery and his team beat Ohio in their lone game last season, which was also a conference opener. But last year was a transition year. This season, NIU is playing like a team that is ready to claim bragging rights.

NIU comes in 11-2, and 9-0 at home. The friendly confines of the NIU Convocation Center have been good to the Huskies, or are 24-5 at home since Feb. 12th, 2014 according to NIU athletics. On the other hand, the Huskies have caught heat for less-than imposing nonconference schedule. The exception to that would be two games (and losses) against Missouri and Ohio State. But in neither of those games did Northern Illinois struggle. Both games were dog-fights that made the bigger opponent sweat.

Travon Baker could help NIU big time by controlling and distributing the ball intelligently, he has a smashing 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. Baker averages just under 10 points a game while Marin Maric, Aaric Armstead and frosh Marshawn Wilson are north of that mark.

The Huskies are going to want to slow the pace in order to keep Ohio from getting anywhere near 80 and have them hover below 40 percent shooting or less from the floor (NIU holds opponents to 37 percent shooting). The Huskies must grab boards and keep the Ohio from playing with energy, while debilitating them by forcing turnovers, something the 'Cats have a propensity for.