Daily Chronicle sports editor John Sahly and sports reporter Ryan Wood spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their 2011 Take 2 column, they discuss Northern Illinois upcoming men’s and women’s basketball seasons.
Wood: Both NIU basketball teams lost dynamic players. Both are inexperienced. Both seem to have more questions than answers as the season begins.
But, for Northern Illinois men’s and women’s teams, there are reasons for optimism when looking toward the future. Obviously, Mark Montgomery and Kathi Bennett are in different phases of their rebuilding process. Tell me, John, what do you expect from their teams this winter?
Sahly: For the men’s team, matching the nine wins of last season I think would be a major accomplishment. Montgomery’s crew isn’t short on talent or athleticism, but they lack just about everything else. This is a slow, painful rebuilding process. I think you’ll really start to see a turnaround when NIU turns up its defense, pressures the ball and makes it tough for opponents to get the easy buckets they’re used to getting against the Huskies. When that happens is anybody’s guess.
On the women’s side, it’s a much sunnier outlook. Bennett is a year ahead of Montgomery, she’s got more of her players in the program and is understandably excited about the future of this team. Her biggest challenge is sorting through her team’s depth to figure out a rotation and combinations to exploit matchup problems. That’s not a bad problem to have at all. How do you see it?
Wood: I think Montgomery’s biggest challenge is figuring out how to mesh five returning players with eight freshmen. He said he never has coached a team with that blend before. Most other coaches haven’t either.
But, clearly, there are basketball problems on NIU’s men’s roster. The Huskies need to find a point guard. Maybe Antone Christian is the answer after playing off the basketball last season. Maybe not. I also disagree with your assessment about NIU’s size. True, there is good length on the wing, but the Huskies are crippled in the post. Defending the Matt Stainbrook, Jarrod Jones and Zeke Marshall’s of the Mid-American Conference is going to be a daunting challenge this season. Until NIU finds a true center, it’s basically playing 4-on-5.
As for the women, I’m curious to see who steps up in the absence of Marke Freeman and Ebony Ellis. Courtney Shelton’s leadership will be crucial. Jenna Thorp’s presence is a bonus. And Danielle Pulliam might be able to play a similar role as Freeman last season.
You know, the one thing neither coach has done is offer a win total to measure their seasons with. How many wins do you expect from both programs?
Sahly: Well I wouldn’t expect the coaches to offer that up, puts too much pressure on them and it skews expectations in all the wrong ways. I think seven to nine wins is reasonable for the men. For the women, at least 13-14? That sounds right. What about you?
Wood: I think seven to nine wins would make for a terrific men’s basketball season. As you mentioned, NIU has the talent and athleticism. There is just so much to learn, too much. How quickly the Huskies’ eight freshmen adjust to the college game will determine how many games NIU wins.
As for the women, it’s hard to say. I think we’ll really have a much better idea of that after the first couple games. I think 13 to 14 wins is the over-under. I could see it going over and under. Certainly plenty of suspense for fans as the seasons get under way.