What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Sam from Hustle Belt, SB Nation's fine blog for all things #MACtion.
1) How has NIU looked so far this season? I see that the Huskies are 2-0, but one of those wins came over something called "Aurora," so I'm really not sure what to make of it. Is NIU well-positioned to build off last year's 15-win performance?
SAM: Thus far NIU has beaten a couple of opponents that they should be beating. Aurora was just a DIII school, located in Aurora, IL, pretty close to Northern. The second win came to Idaho at home. So far the offense has scored at a higher rate than last year, but of course we are through two games and haven't played the best opposition. We will learn a pretty good amount from our game vs. you guys, especially since this is NIU's best non conference match up on the schedule.
The team's outlook for building off the 15 win year last year is bright. This squad has returned key starters and a lot of these kids have played since their first year on campus. Coach Mark Montgomery is changing the culture of the team and this could be a year to improve even further for us.
2) What does NIU like to do on offense? So far this season it looks like NIU has been shooting very well, but a two-game sample size isn't much to go on.
SAM: NIU's offense is as half court as it gets. It'll be slow and a lot of the offense will work through the the post, but the guards can make plays when needed. It almost resembles a B10 style of play with MAC athletes if you will. Montgomery was an assistant for Tom Izzo at MSU for some time, and NIU has tried to replicate that style under him.
3) Tempo-wise, it appears that the Huskies are one of the slower teams in the NCAA (276th nationally, per KenPom) -- and that's been a consistent feature for them under coach Mark Montgomery. Is it fair to say that they're going to try and take the air out of the ball a bit and slow things down against Iowa?
SAM: Definitely. We will try to slow the game down as much as possible, especially with the contrasting styles of play. We know you guys want to run and that's certainly not our game.
4) Defensively, what are NIU's strengths? What are their weaknesses?
SAM: Defense is the strength of this team. We were actually 44th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season believe it or not. Mark Montgomery has brought in a hard-nosed gritty mentality that has translated to a sound defense (2nd in scoring defense in the MAC last season) on the court. The Huskies have that blue collar toughness on defense and a real strong point would be their ability to rebound. As far as weaknesses go... they don't really have a lockdown defender.
5) Who's one key player on NIU that Iowa fans should be aware of on Wednesday? Who's one other player that could have a big game and key an NIU upset bid?
SAM: Jordan Threloff, a senior center who is the best post scorer for the Huskies and a rebound machine. He can go toe to toe with Jarrod Uthoff if he's on his game. A player who could trigger a shock upset would be Dontel Highsmith. He showed bags of potential at point guard last year before tearing his ACL. He's a scorer and you need a guard to step up if you are to pull off an upset, Highsmith is the most likely candidate to do that.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
SAM: My prediction... well, Iowa is simply too athletic and too fast for NIU. We don't have anyone who can guard Aaron White, which is a problem. It's going to be awfully tough for us to find a way to slow the tempo to our liking, so I will go with Iowa, by about 20.
Thanks for being a good sport, Sam, although I still hope your team loses by 50 on Wednesday. You can check out the Hustle Belt crew at Hustle Belt. You can also follow Hustle Belt on Twitter at @HustleBelt. The Iowa-Northern Illinois game is in Iowa City, IA on Wednesday, November 26, and is scheduled to start at 7:30 pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN3.