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Take 2: After two 5-win seasons, what’s a fair expectation?

Daily Chronicle sports editor Ross Jacobson and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they discuss the upcoming NIU men’s basketball season.

Nitz: Ross, in our preseason Take 2 last year, we both said 10 wins would be a good benchmark for Northern Illinois men’s basketball. 

The Huskies had another disappointing season, finishing with only five wins for the second straight year. NIU lost its leading scorer in Abdel Nader, but gained centers Jordan Threloff and Pete Rakocevic and guard Dontel Highsmith. 

So, what are fair expectations for the Huskies in 2013-14?

Jacobson: Can we put the barometer back at double digits? Obviously, we underestimated the negative affect of having such a young team last year. There are newcomers on this year’s roster as well, but the Huskies won’t be one of the youngest teams in the country again. That showed in late-game situations and the Huskies lost a number of close games. 

I expect the offense to be better – it couldn’t get much worse – and I think the Huskies should win 10 games this season. 

Nitz: I think it would be disappointing if NIU doesn’t win 10 games, and I think it will get there. Winning 15 games would be seen as a huge step forward, though I don’t think the Huskies win that many.

The fact NIU actually has some size this year will play a big factor in its success. Last season, Nader and Keith and Kevin Gray were playing out of position. This year, the Huskies have three players 6-foot-9 or taller in Threloff (6-9), Rakocevic (6-11) and freshman Marin Maric (6-10).

I’m interested to watch Threloff and the other newcomers this season. Which new Huskie makes the biggest impact?

Jacobson: I’m looking at Aaron Armstead, a junior college transfer from California, as somebody who could step in and provide some scoring on the perimeter. That’s an area NIU struggled in last year without Nader, and the Huskies will be looking for some players to fill the void. 

Nitz: I’m really interested to see what Threloff can do in his first season here, plus it’s a good story having a DeKalb High product at NIU. He’s off to a good start, having scored 17 points in the Huskies’ exhibition win over Rockford University. 

I also think freshman guard Dontel Highsmith could be a key contributor. He averaged 29 points as a high school senior and should get some decent minutes this year. He probably will spend most of his time at shooting guard, and can play the point, as well.

Jacobson: Coach Mark Montgomery has talked a lot about the team’s depth this year, and certainly it appears to be better than it was last year. However, one of the bigger questions will be who takes on the role of late-game go-to scorer. That used to be Nader, who nailed a game-winner against Kent State last season.

Who will step up this season? Aksel Bolin? Darrell Bowie? It’s something to watch.

The Huskies will be better, but there still is progress to be made before we consider them a contender in the Mid-American Conference. Getting back to Cleveland in the conference tournament would be a nice step forward.

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