NIU is undefeated in 2010! Better get that out of your system while you can. NIU is 3-0 so far in 2010 and playing much better basketball than 2009. However, even though the MAC is not known to be a powerhouse basketball conference, it is highly unlikely the Huskies will stay undefeated much longer, especially with a good Western Michigan (9-5, 1-0 MAC) squad making a visit to our cornfields this Wednesday night.
Even if the Huskies lose against Western Michigan, there is still reason to be excited. NIU has won all 3 games they have played in 2010, and are winners of 4 out of their last 5. Sure, the competition during that 5 game span hasn't been what you would consider top-notch (except for Temple), but the Huskies have showed a lot of improvement, even in the loss to Temple.
So what has been the the key for NIU's improved play of late?
For starters, Junior Guard Xavier Silas is back in the line up after suffering a fracture in his shooting hand in the first game of the season. During NIU's 4-1 stretch, Silas has been red-hot averaging 23.6 PPG on 44% shooting from the field. Silas has provided the consistent scoring threat that NIU has lacked for years. He is a smart player who plays with the flow of the offense; he rarely takes a bad shot and always tries to keep his teammates involved.
Because most of NIU's offense has been going through Silas, passing has improved dramatically. Early on in the season with Silas out, NIU relied too much on one-on-one match ups. The problem with that was besides Jake Anderson, NIU did not have anyone that could create their own shot. The result was ill advised and off balance shots that had little chance of going in. With Silas back in the line up, the Huskies are moving the ball well, and instead of taking one-on-one match-ups, they are looking for the open man. The result is easily seen as NIU is averaging 15.4 assists per game during the last 5 games, as opposed to 10.5 in the first 8.
As the ball moves around, the Huskies have been able to get better looks from the field. The result is an increase in shooting percentage from the field (45% in the last 5 as oposed to 37% in the first 8) as well as from 3 point range (37% to 21%). The shooting has even carried over to the free throw line (70% to 53%) as players are finding their shooting stroke.
By combining all of those factors, the Huskies are finally clicking on offense, averaging 74.8 PPG in their last 5 games as opposed to 57 PPG in their first 8.
The improved play of the Huskies is a reason for optimism this season. A MAC West Division titles may not be so far out of reach if NIU continues to play at this level. The lack of a clear-cut top-team in the division helps boost the chances of winning the West Division crown. With Western Michigan being the team that stands out the most in the west, we should have a better idea of how far the Huskies might fly this season after Wednesday's game. With the way this team has been playing, we might just get to say Huskies are undefeated in 2010! for another week.