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Get to Know a Marquette Basketball Opponent: Northern Illinois University

Not to be confused with fellow MU opponents SIU Edwardsville and Illinois Genuine Draft.

Buffalo v Northern Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Name: Northern Illinois University

Commonly Known As: NIU

Location: DeKalb, Illinois

Founded: May 22nd, 1895 as Northern Illinois State Normal School

Lol, “normal” school: Yes, it sounds funny, but for whatever reason, that was the terminology at the time for a school that existed to train schoolteachers.

Enrollment: 11,834 undergrads and 4,400 grad students for a total of 16,234

Soccer School??: The Northern Illinois men’s soccer team had a tremendous season this year. They defeated #18 Marquette in DeKalb 3-0, and also took down #4 West Virginia 2-0. In October, the Huskies drew #17 Bowling Green 1-1 before taking them down in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament 5-2. They were awarded with a berth to the NCAA men’s soccer tournament and beat Oakland in the first round before bowing out to #5 Pitt 5-2.

Nickname: Huskies

Why “Huskies”?: In 1899, they were known as the Profs, a name that referenced the early focus of the university’s as a teachers’ college. In 1920, the nickname changed again to be the Cardinals, and in the 1930s the team was known as the Evansmen. This nickname paid homage to George G. “Chick” Evans, a man who helped to modernize the athletics department, and who was one of four men on a committee that picked the name “Huskies.” Shouts to Chick for being willing to move the nickname away from something that honored him, apparently. It’s worth noting that the usual singular form of huskies is husky, BUT the singular form of NIU’s “Huskies” is “Huskie.” It seems to have originated in 1940 with the original decision to become the Huskies.

Notable Alumni: I don’t know if this shows how truly uncultured I am, but I only recognize one name on the alumni list: Kenny Golladay, current New York Giants wide receiver and four-year Detroit Lions receiver. The school also boasts the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta, current Minnesota University football head coach P.J. Fleck, and Anies Baswedan, Governor of Jakarta, Indonesia.

Editor’s Note: This is Wood Harris erasure, and I won’t stand for it.

Any interesting campus traditions? Well, if they exist, the school doesn’t want to acknowledge them. When the university lists “finish the PA announcer’s call for an NIU first down at football games” and “shout your section’s color when the cheerleaders point at you” as actual campus traditions, things are obviously pretty light on actual fun things on campus to do. Even the school newspaper can’t dress up the campus traditions as anything particularly interesting, although a Recycled Boat Race does sound kind of intriguing.

Last Season: 3-16 overall, and 2-12 in MAC conference play.

Final 2020-21 KenPom.com Ranking: #337

Final 2020-21 T-Rank Ranking: #327

This Season: 1-4, with their lone win coming over KenPom.com #135 Washington.

Wait, you mean.... Yes, Pac-12 Washington Huskies. They won by seven out in Seattle thanks to a 15-2 run in the final five minutes.

Who else did they play If they haven’t beaten anyone else? At Indiana and at Missouri with both coming right out of the gate after the Washington win, so you know that Mike Woodson and Cuonzo Martin were leaning heavily on the “HEY, THEY BEAT WASHINGTON!” stick. NIU also lost to Boston University and Little Rock in an event down in Jacksonville back on Sunday and Monday.

FUN FACT: Northern Illinois hasn’t played a home game yet and they won’t until Wednesday.

Current KenPom.com Ranking: #323

Current T-Rank Ranking: #332

Returning Stat Leaders

Points: Trendon Hankerson, 13.9 ppg
Rebounds: Trendon Hankerson, 4.4 rpg
Assists: Kaleb Thornton, 2.9 apg

Current Stat Leaders

Points: Trendon Hankerson, 11.8 ppg
Rebounds: Anthony Crump, 4.6 rpg
Assists: Kaleb Thornton, 2.6 apg

Bigs? They’ve got a couple of 6’9 guys in Chris Osten and Adong Makuoi but both of those guys get around 10 minutes per game. Makuoi has started three of their games so far this season, but hasn’t been that productive and only started one of the last three. The real major contributor in the paint for NIU is Anthony Crump who is 6’8, 210 lbs and is officially listed as a guard on the NIU website, but KenPom.com’s fancy analytics math has him playing more of a Forward position for the Huskies. Crump averaged more rebounds than points last season so I think it’s safe to say he’s more of a big guy than a guard. Chinedu Kingsley Okanu should also see some decent minutes in the paint, as the 6’7”, 225 lb. senior is coming off of a seven rebound performance against Little Rock. Overall, minutes have been consistently inconsistent with the exception of Crump who has seen more than 17 minutes in every game so far.

Shooters? For a team that sees 40% of their points coming on threes, they only shoot 34.9% from beyond the arc. Trendon Hankerson leads the team in attempts, but has only hit 12 of 39 attempts (30.8%) this season so far. He shot 36.9% last season however, so it stands to reason that he remains a three point threat. Not a single other player has attempted more than 17 threes so far this season, so the sample size is incredibly limited. For context, Marquette’s top 4 players in three-point attempts all took more than 22 through the first 5 games of the season (same number that NIU has played). Zool Kueth shot 37% last year, and seems to be doing pretty similar things so far this season, putting up 35% so far. 50/40/100 player Darweshi Hunter leads the team in 3 point percentage, but on just 14 attempts in about 23 minutes per game.

Head Coach: Rashon Burno, who is currently in his first season in charge of the Huskies. He spent the last six seasons at Arizona State before being hired by NIU on March 6th of this year. If the name sounds familiar to you, that’s because he played for DePaul from 1998-2002 and is still #3 in program history in steals and #6 in assists.

What To Watch For: The biggest contrast between these two teams is tempo. Marquette plays one of the fastest offenses in college basketball (#4 in average possession length at the moment per KenPom) and NIU trends in the slower direction. While NIU’s defence isn’t stellar, #282 according to KenPom.com, they do make teams work for their buckets. So far this season, they have been forcing an average possession length of 17.9 seconds which firmly places them in the top 100 if you’re measuring longest time of possession.

NIU does have a little bit of a turnover problem, as they’re giving it away on 24.4% of possessions. That noise you hear is the salivating coming from Marquette’s defensive style of play. Shaka Smart already has his team forcing turnovers — I’m sure you’ve heard about the 32 deflections per game goal — and he wants them to push the ball in transition. Forcing NIU into mistakes they’re already prone to making, and not allowing their defense to set up bodes well for Marquette going into this matchup.

Another thing to consider is how Marquette responds after looking completely shell-shocked against St. Bonaventure six days ago. This is still a very young team, and six games worth of the season didn’t change that. Only six players have played important minutes in blowout losses before and five experienced it for the first time. From 30,000 feet, it definitely was not a disappointment: Marquette wasn’t expected to win, they got a lot of good minutes for young guys, and overall went 3-1 in a PACKED week of games. But, it was the first collegiate loss for the freshmen, and it was a bad one. It would make sense for disappointment to be felt after a game like that when they had played quite well for the rest of the week. I don’t know how it will affect the team overall. We could see jittery shooting and a lack of confidence on offense, we could see the guys come out hot and looking to play from the get go, or maybe it might not affect them at all.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, but there seems to be some confusion. The Marquette created game preview lists the score as 95-65 in the only meeting and the game as having been played on December 9th, 1992. BUT Sports Reference lists the lone game as being the aforementioned 76-71 win on November 28th, 1991, and the 95-65 win having been against Northeastern Illinois. HOWEVER, the Marquette media guide/record book says that the Golden Eagles are 6-2 all time against Northern Illinois, with the most recent meeting coming in December of 2018....... but the AE recap of that 79-70 MU victory at the Bradley Center makes it very clear that the game happened in December of 2017. Confused yet? Good, because I am.