Oct. 30, 2009
DEKALB, Ill. -
After going through two weeks of official organized practices, the 2009 Northern Illinois men's basketball team will take the floor competitively for the first time Sunday, when the Huskies host NCAA Division III affiliate Aurora University in the first-of two exhibition games at the Convocation Center beginning at 3 p.m.
When the Huskies and Spartans tip-off Sunday afternoon, NIU will have held 13 practices since Oct. 16. According to head coach Ricardo Patton, his team is ready to compete against someone other than their own teammates.
"Our guys are chomping at the bit," Patton said. "They've gone through two weeks of practice, and are ready to go head-to-head with someone else. It's going to be exciting to see us out there - our guys have had a great attitude in the preseason, and they understand how more times than not, we were our own worst enemies last season. They've worked hard to remedy some those things early on.
"We've had some very physical practices, which have led to a few bumps and bruises. That is simply the byproduct of guys getting after one another, and that's a good problem to have. We've got some great position battles out there, and practices have been competitive."
The Huskies are coming off last season's 10-20 (5-11 MAC) campaign - NIU finished tied for fifth in the MAC-West standings, and was edged (64-61) by sixth-seeded Kent State in the opening round of the FirstEnergy MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
NIU returns 13 letterwinners, including four starters, from the 2008-09 squad. Key newcomers include Colorado transfer Xavier Silas, who averaged double figures in scoring during two seasons playing in the Big XII; freshman Tony Nixon (South Holland, Ill./Seton Academy) and point guard Keith Smith (Chicago, Ill./St. Ignatius), who medically redshirted last season - he retained four years of eligibility.
Aurora captured the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament title last season, and secured its third-consecutive NCAA Division III Championship bid. The Huskies and Spartans have squared off 25 times in program history, with NIU holding a 22-3 all-time series advantage.
In the modern era, the two teams have squared off five times, all in regular season non-conference play. The Huskies have won all five of those contests by an average of 33 points per game, including a 102-61 win in the second game of the 2005-06 campaign (11/26/05).
NIU's second and final exhibition contest of the 2009-10 season will be on Friday, Nov. 6, versus Marygrove College. Tip-off from the Convocation Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Huskies will open regular season play Friday, Nov. 13 against Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.