DeKALB – Northern Illinois’ men’s basketball team will wake up in the wee hours this morning in Valparaiso, Ind.
The Huskies will hold a pregame meal at 4:45 a.m. before getting to Valparaiso’s Athletics-Recreation Center 45 minutes later.
At 7 a.m., NIU (0-1) will tip off against the Crusaders (1-0) for a game broadcast on ESPN as part of the network’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.
Playing so early, not to mention being on ESPN, will be a different experience for the Huskies.
“It’s definitely going to take some adjusting to bring the intensity at 7 o’clock in the morning, on national television,” junior guard Antone Christian said. “It’s definitely going to be something different.”
The 24-hour event began with West Virginia’s game at Gonzaga at 11 p.m. Monday, and will conclude with today’s Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at 6 p.m., with Michigan State taking on Kansas in the first game and Duke-Kentucky following that contest.
Playing at a time when the normal college student is fast asleep can be an adjustment.
But NIU coach Mark Montgomery has changed his team’s schedule around in order for the Huskies to adjust to everything.
Montgomery held practice from 6 to 8 a.m. Sunday and Monday in order to get his team accommodated to the unusual schedule.
“I just wanted to give them that mental edge, but also the feeling of, this is when we’re going to be full contact,” Montgomery said. “This is when we’ve got to make sure our bodies are ready to roll and play.”
It’s not like the Huskies have never worked out in the early morning hours. During preseason workouts, NIU held conditioning at 6:30 a.m. Freshman guard Akeem Springs, a Waukegan native, remembers tipping off at 8 a.m. in high school at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, and starting AAU games around 7:30-8 a.m.
Playing at this early in the day isn’t something normal at the college level, but players like Springs have at least been there before.
“For me, and I think for a lot of people, because of AAU, they’re used to the early mornings,” Springs said. “We’re probably going to wake up a little earlier than we would do on a regular AAU tournament. But I think it’s the same, because we have all played AAU, so we’ve had to get up early and get prepared and get ready to go at a quick pace.”
Taking the court so early today does mean NIU gets the opportunity to play on ESPN, something rare for a mid-major program. Other mid-major schools taking part in the 24-hour marathon include Butler, Davidson, Detroit, Hawaii and Kent State.
Montgomery isn’t worried about a lack of intensity considering the circumstances.
“The excitement of playing on the basketball marathon, and playing on the big channel, ESPN, it’s going to have the guys ramped up,” Montgomery said. “And I know Valpo’s going to have a good crowd.”
Schedule of games
11 p.m., West Virginia at No. 21 Gonzaga, ESPN
1 a.m., Davidson at New Mexico, ESPN
3 a.m., Houston Baptist at Hawaii, ESPN
5 a.m., Stony Brook at Rider, ESPN
7 a.m., Northern Illinois at Valparaiso, ESPN
9 a.m., Harvard at Massachusetts, ESPN
11 a.m., Temple at Kent State, ESPN
1 p.m., Detroit at St. John’s, ESPN
3 p.m., Butler at Xavier, ESPN
5 p.m., No. 6 Kentucky at
No. 1 Baylor (women), ESPN2
6 p.m., No. 14 Michigan St vs.
No. 7 Kansas, ESPN
6 p.m., Wichita State at VCU, ESPNU
7 p.m., Cleveland State at No. 5 Michigan (NIT), ESPN2
8 p.m., Lehigh/Robert Morris at Pittsburgh, ESPNU
8 p.m., No. 8 Duke vs No. 3 Kentucky, ESPN
9 p.m., North Texas/Alabama-Huntsville at Kansas State, ESPN2