RECAPPING THE 2008-09 MEN'S BASKETBALL SEASON
Mike DiNunno was named to the MAC All-Freshman Team.
Steady progression could be a popular phrase to describe the 2008-09 campaign for the Northern Illinois men's basketball team. The Huskies improved their entire victory total from the 2007-08 season by four wins, and its MAC win output by two league victories. NIU also posted its first winning season at home (7-5) since 2005-06.
Second-year head coach Ricardo Patton fielded a roster that included a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores, and near the tail-end of the season, was starting all underclassmen. Two of those young players received All-MAC recognition, with sophomore guard Darion "Jake" Anderson picking up second-team plaudits, and guard Mike DiNunno being named to the league's All-Freshman Team. DiNunno led all MAC freshmen in scoring (12.3 ppg), assists (2.62 apg), free throw percentage (.732), three-point field goals made per game (1.93) and minutes played (29.34 mpg).
Northern Illinois was the only team in the MAC-West to garner five Player of the Week honors from the league office. DiNunno was named the MAC-West Co-Player of the Week for the period ending Nov. 23, and Anderson collected the same honor four times (Dec. 1, Dec. 15, Feb. 16 and March 1).
NIU's offensive ability carried the Huskies throughout the season; the Huskies finished the season ranked third in the MAC in scoring, at 66.2 points per game. The Huskies posted 11 games with 70 or more points, including five outings in conference play.
Consequently, where NIU struggled was on the defensive end. The Huskies ranked 12th in the MAC in scoring defense (70.8 ppg), 11th in defensive field goal percentage (.443) and 12th in three-point field goal percentage defense (.374). NIU also struggled from the free throw line, shooting at a league-low 59.2 percent clip.
NIU earned the No. 11 seed in the MAC Tournament for the third-consecutive season, but battled sixth-seeded Kent State to the brink at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena in the first-round. The Huskies led the Golden Flashes for more than 30 minutes, but Kent State finished the game on a 6-3 run over the final 3:53, and escaped with a 64-61 win.
The Huskies will quickly transition from one of the youngest teams in the MAC, to one of the deepest and experienced squads, heading into the 2009-10 campaign. NIU will return 13 letterwinners next season, including 88 percent of its scoring, and 79 percent of its rebounding totals.
Northern Illinois will welcome at least three newcomers to the mix next season, highlighted by Colorado transfer Xavier Silas, who will have two years of eligibility remaining. In his lone season playing under NIU head coach Ricardo Patton at Colorado (2006-07), Silas averaged 12.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. In the 17 games he started, Silas averaged 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and was 72-for-171 from the field (.421). In the 2007-08 campaign, he averaged 9.7 points per game in an average of 29.5 minutes per contest.
Point guard Keith Smith, another Chicago native, will also join the Huskies for the 2009-10 season. After suffering a shoulder injury, he sat out the 2008-09 campaign as a medical redshirt. Smith was a member of the Daily Southtown First Team All-Area squad, and was an all-conference selection during his senior season (2006-07). In his final season, Smith led St. Ignatius High School in assists and steals, and ranked second on the squad in blocks.
South Holland, Ill., native Tony Nixon (Seton Academy) will also join the Huskies next season. He helped the Sting to the Class 2A state championship in Peoria, Ill., last March, and is the fifth recruit in the Ricardo Patton era to hail from the Chicagoland region. Nixon inked a National Letter of Intent with the Huskies during the early signing period.OWENS UPDATE
NIU head women's basketball coach and USA Women's Basketball U19 World Championships head coach Carol Owens is back from the U19 World Championship Team Trials in Colorado Springs, Colo. and discusses the process in her most recent post. Also added to her blog is a brief photo gallery from the Trials.
DISCUSSING THE FORMAT
Here's an interesting tidbit on what some of the MAC brass is up to in regard to future conference basketball tournaments, written by Doug Zaleski of the The Star Press (an Indiana paper). Basically, the options are these: keep the whole thing, including 12 men's and 12 women's teams, in Cleveland; do opening rounds at campus sites; or split the tournament into two different locations.
A-Z AT NCAA CONFERENCE
Huskie men's soccer player Aaron Zendejas has been at the NCAA Student-Athlete Conference since Sunday. You can learn more about the conference with this link, and this earlier announcement on Zendejas' selection to attend.