After a promising freshman campaign, it was hard to imagine PG Mike Dinunno struggling this badly almost halfway through his sophomore season. One year after being named to the All-MAC All-Freshman Team, Dinunno's performance has been the epitome of a sophomore slump.
There has been much debate on why Dinunno has struggled so badly this season, so when the news that he has dealed with some family issues throughout this season came out, it might have shed some light on his production decline.
Dinunno has gotten worse in every category this season. The most baffling one is his shooting. Dinunno is shooting an anemic %.245 from the floor, .186% from 3pt range. The result of that is just one double digit scoring game this season, with an average of only 5.6 points per game as opposed to 11.9 PPG his freshman year. Could it be that these numbers can be attributed to his family issues? Dinunno didn't shoot lights out last season from the field, but he did shoot a respectable .339% from beyond the arc.
Despite his struggles, Dinunno has been handling most of the minutes at PG with Bryan Hall sidelined by injury. In the last 3 games he has played under control and tried to move the ball around the offense more often. Even then, Dinunno has only collected 8 assists during the 3 game stretch where the Huskies have gone 2-1.
There is no question that if he ever comes out of this slump, he will give the Huskies what he is most suited for--a shooter trapped in a point guard body. There are a few good signs that he could get out this funk.
One good sign is the fact that even though he has struggled on the court, he continues to log major minutes under coach Ricardo Patton. That shows Patton is confident in Dinunno's abilities. His struggles may be hampering NIU's chances of winning games right now, but Patton has to be looking at the big picture. While sitting him on the bench may hurt his confidence in the long run, Patton has let Dinunno play through this early season funk, hoping he will be back to form when MAC play begins, helping take some of the scoring pressure off Xavier Silas and Jake Anderson.
Another encouraging sign is that all other 4 players nominated to the 2009 All-MAC All-Freshman Team with Dinunno have improved their numbers across the board. Dinunno's start this season seems more like a fluke than anything. The fact that he continues to shoot the ball (ignting the ire of Huskie fans) shows that at least he is confident in his abilities. Confidence is very important in any sport, and once it is gone, it is hard to gain it back.
There is no doubt Dinunno is a confident young men. But a lot of the times it is easy to forget that these young men are still not even old enough to get into a bar or even rent a car (Dinunno is 19 years old). There is a lot of pressure on them to perform on the court. Combine that with balancing school work and add family issues, and you can see why some of them start to crack.
Unfortunately, Huskie nation can not afford to wait too long for Dinunno to get better. With Silas back, this team has a shot at winning the MAC West and build a nice foundation for years to come. Should Dinunno struggle during conference play, Patton must find a solution to replace him at the point.
After reading the news about his family issues, I believe it is a good thing Patton is letting Dinunno get his confidence back by playing him. It is not like NIU had much of a chance to get an at-large bid for the big dance anyways. NIU's best chance is to win the MAC tournament and in order to do that, it will need every bit of help they can get, Mike Dinunno being one of those bits.