NIU Men’s Hoops Named Favorite To Win MAC Western Division, MAC Tournament Titles



October 23, 2003

NIU Men’s Hoops Named Favorite To Win MAC Western Division, MAC Tournament Titles

CLEVELAND, OH -- Three seasons ago Northern Illinois head coach Rob Judson inherited a program that won just five games the year before his arrival in DeKalb, IL. Thursday (Oct. 23) at the Mid-American Conference Media Day in Cleveland, OH, the Huskies were picked to win both the MAC Western Division title and the MAC Tournament title by the Conference media.

“It’s just the preseason and we know that doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Judson said. “We’ve got a lot to prove this season. There is so much parity in this Conference right now, anyone can win. It’s great for the Mid-American Conference as a whole to have so many capable teams, but whomever comes through as the champion, will have definitely earned it.”

Led by first team All-MAC Western Division selections Marcus Smallwood and P.J. Smith, the Huskies received 28 of the possible 48 first-place votes to win the MAC Western Division crown. Bowling Green, led by All-MAC West pick Kevin Netter, was picked second with 13 first-place votes. Miami (Ohio) was chosen as the MAC Eastern Division favorite.

While NIU will be searching for its first Mid-American Conference title since the 1980-81 season, the Huskies did bring home the Mid-Continent Conference hardware under the direction of head coach Jim Molinari during the 1990-91 campaign. Judson was an assistant under Molinari during that championship season.

Last year NIU turned in its best conference mark (11-7) since rejoining the MAC in 1997-98. Led by first team All-MAC pick Marcus Smallwood and MAC All-Tournament selection P.J. Smith, the Huskies finished second in the MAC West to Central Michigan and advanced to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, OH.

One of just two sets of teammates to make the preseason All-MAC team, Derrick Tarver and Jon Hollingsworth of Akron were named to the MAC-Eastern Division squad, Smallwood and Smith are coming off spectacular seasons in which they led the Huskies to a 17-14 overall record.

A First Team All-MAC honoree as a junior, Smallwood averaged 13.3 points and 10.1 rebounds a game. One of just 20 players nationally to average a double-double, Smallwood enters 2003-04 as the sixth highest returning rebounder nationally. He will also enter the season as the MAC’s top returner in total rebounds per game (10.1), offensive rebounds a game (4.13), field-goal percentage (.548) and blocked shots (1.35). In sharing Northern Illinois MVP honors with P.J. Smith, the Elgin, IL, native became the first NIU player to average a double-double for a season since T.J. Lux during the 1997-98 season. Smallwood will also look to become the first Huskie to win MAC Conference Player of the Year honors since Paul Dawkins during the 1978-79 season.

Smith returns after earning honorable mention All-MAC and MAC All-Tournament honors a year ago. The Huskies’ top scorer in 2002-03, Smith averaged 14.7 points a contest and proved to be one of the Conference’s most capable scorers. In addition to his 33-point outburst vs. Western Michigan (3-13-03) in the MAC quarterfinals, the Maywood, IL, native poured in 35 points in a road contest vs. South Florida (12-17-02) and narrowly missed his third 30-point game of the season with 29 points at Ball State (1-11-03). The team’s top free throw shooter (.766) last season, Smith ranked 12th conference-wide at the charity stripe in addition to being ranked eighth in steals a game (1.65) and 10th in three-point makes (59).

The Northern Illinois men’s and women’s basketball programs will hold their annual media day on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at the Convocation Center. For media members wishing to attend, please contact the Northern Illinois Sports Information Office at (815) 753-1706.

Copy by David Reiter

MAC WEST Voting (First-Place Votes)

1. Northern Illinois (28) 309
2. Bowling Green (13) 245
3. Western Michigan (4) 226
4. Ball State (1) 192
5. Toledo (1) 130
6. Central Michigan (1) 128
7. Eastern Michigan 114

MAC East Voting (First-Place Votes)

1. Miami (Ohio) (21) 247
2. Akron (17) 240
3. Kent State (9) 200
4. Marshall 125
5. Ohio 103
6. Buffalo (1) 72

MAC Tournament Champion Team Votes
Northern Illinois 16
Miami (Ohio) 10
Bowling Green 7
Ball State 4
Western Michigan 3
Kent State 2




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