Give Ricardo Patton credit. His Northern Illinois team isn’t shying away from competition.
The 2009-10 men’s basketball schedule was released Wednesday and is highlighted by three games against Big Ten opponents, including back-to-back games at Northwestern and at Illinois to open the season, in addition to a trip to Minnesota on Dec. 15.
Patton confirmed on Wednesday that Northwestern will return to DeKalb for a game against the Huskies.
“I give Northwestern, coach [Bill] Carmody and the administration their kudos for being willing to come back to our place and play,” Patton said. “A lot of times guys tend to just want to buy games and play at home in the non-conference season but when teams are willing to go on the road, that says a lot.”
The two teams haven’t played since Dec. 1, 1986, a 74-63 Northwestern victory.
NIU also plays a total of five in-state teams, including its first-ever trip to Illinois. The Huskies play at Chicago State on Nov. 28, come home to play Bradley on Dec. 2 and travel to Illinois-Chicago on Dec. 19.
It’s much different travel-wise compared to last season’s schedule, when the Huskies made trips to Alaska, Kennesaw, Ga., and Colorado Springs, Colo., in the non-conference season.
“We’re all trying to recruit the kids in our state, I think it makes sense,” Patton said. “They want to continue to compete against each other. From a financial standpoint it makes sense with that cost involved of driving down the highway versus a flight.”
The Huskies also will play Temple at home on Dec. 30.
With an increase in the strength of the team’s schedule, Patton said he is closer to what he wants to see on the slate every season.
“The only difference is the schedule we hope to do in the future is to have all of those teams returning games [to NIU],” Patton said. “That’s a long-term goal. I think that will happen in time.”
The Mid-American Conference schedule starts with a trip to Ball State before back-to-back home games with Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. NIU will hit the road for cross-divisional contests against Kent State (Feb. 1), 2009 MAC champion Akron (Feb. 3) and Bowling Green (Feb. 10).
But what Patton is pleased with most about the conference schedule is the way it finishes, with a home game against Toledo on March 4.
“We were playing extremely well last year down the stretch and then the last two games were on the road,” Patton said. “What if they were at home? Who knows the momentum you can gain from that?”