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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Northern Illinois

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Gophers look to extend winning streak to four games

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Notre Dame
Aaric Armstead is averaging 11 ppg for NIU.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, it feels really good to just eviscerate a team once in a while doesn’t it? Just days after sneaking by pesky NJIT, the Gophers unleashed the kind of offensive attack we hadn’t seen since the Arkansas game, beating Georgia Southern 86-49. Dupree McBrayer got back on track with 18 points to lead all scorers, while the team combined for 23 assists against just nine turnovers. That’s pretty impressive. And, if we’re learning anything, it’s that Reggie Lynch is a game changer .. if he can just stay on the court and avoid foul trouble.

The Gophers continue their non-conference tuneup on Sunday against Northern Illinois, a struggling MAC program looking for a spark. The Huskies are currently in a 21-year NCAA tournament drought but have seen their RPI increase substantially over the past five years, culminating in a 21-victory season last year. Still, NIU is a team lost among taller trees in the MAC and have struggled to finish games thus far this season. At 4-4, their best win so far is against Indiana State in the season opener, though they’ve also lost to Elon. CS-Northridge and Cal Poly. To their credit, three of those losses have been by five points or less.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Northern Illinois Huskies (4-4)

What time are they playing?

4 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes. BTN.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Huskies are atrocious at shooting the three, which is probably why they stay away from attempting too many of them. Instead, it’s a heavy dose of playing near the basket and looking to get to the free throw line. Even then, they have a tough time converting and have an effective FG% that ranks just 314th in the nation. Ish.

The offense begins and ends with Marin Maric, a 6-11 Croatian averaging more than 14 ppg and 5.5 rpg. A double-double threat, Maric can also shoot the three, but he does his damage closer to the hoop, which should make for an interesting matchup with Lynch. Like Lynch, he’s prone to getting into foul trouble, which is why he’s as likely to score in single digits as he is to rack up 25 points in a night.

Picking up the scoring slack for the Huskies is senior guard Aaric Armstead and 6-8 sophomore forward Jaylen Key. Key is a physical PF, averaging 11 ppg and 6.5 rpg while Armstead is pulling down a surprising seven boards a game while chipping in 11.5 points each night.

Keys to the Game

For their warts in scoring the ball, NIU does a fair job off cleaning up on the offensive glass, so the Gophers size and physicality should help them there. Alas, the Gophers defense has been so formidable this season that it’s likely to cause problems for a weak Husky offense.

  1. Lean on Reggie - Lynch showed against Georgia Southern how much he can dominate a game when he’s on the court, as he stayed out of foul trouble in the second half and disrupted everything for the Eagles. With Maric being such a key cog for NIU, keeping Lynch on the floor will make things way easier for Minnesota.
  2. Grab those rebounds - NIU has trouble scoring, but do a good job on second chance points since they have an athletic frontcourt. If the Gophers can focus on winning the rebounding battle they’ll leave the Huskies with fewer scoring options.

Predictions

KenPom is giving this one to the Gophers, predicting an 74-61 win. I don’t think it’s going to be pretty for the Huskies. I’m taking Minnesota 80-60.