DeKALB – After all the talk, hype and preseason prognostications, fans, players and coaches are anxious to see what kind of improvements Northern Illinois has made. Tonight, they all get their first glimpse.
Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton wants to witness a few things from his team in tonight’s season opener at 7 p.m. at Northwestern.
“I’m hoping to see a great poise,” Patton said. “A poise going into foreign territory and guys getting better at what we’ve worked on every day at practice and not getting caught up in the fact that you’re playing a Big Ten school, you’re just playing a good team.”
A good team that will reportedly be without arguably its best player in forward Kevin Coble, who suffered an injured foot at practice earlier this week. Coble, who averaged 15.7 points a game last season and was second team all-Big Ten, was a big part of the Wildcats’ offense.
Coble’s injury doesn’t change what the Huskies – who are hobbled themselves as freshman guard Tony Nixon is playing on an injured ankle, forward Najul Ervin is coming off of a groin pull and guard Keith Smith just got his hand out of a cast after injuring his thumb – will see when they take the floor at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats will still run the Princeton offense and be patient with the ball, forcing the Huskies to play consistently solid defense.
“I think we’re ready,” said junior guard Xavier Silas. “I think we have a good shot at beating them if we play our defensive principles and take advantage of what we can on the offensive end.”
Today will also be Silas’ first regular season game in about 20 months since transferring from Colorado.
“The exhibitions really helped with any kind of jitters I would have had. If this was my first game. But it will feel good. We learn from it, whatever way it goes.”
Guard Jake Anderson said NIU can’t get caught up in what the Wildcats do or that this is the season-opener against a Big Ten team that has been predicted to go to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
“It’s really not them, it’s about us, really just capitalizing on the mistakes they do give up,” Anderson said. “We just have to do what we do best.”
Patton agreed and added that he has been able to show film to his team to try and prevent them from trying to do too much in the first game of the season.
“I don’t have that concern now because I think we understand that we have to go and play within ourselves,” he said.
“I’m very anxious to see where we’re at,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, we get a win.”