Both Northern Illinois basketball teams start the season today with the men playing host to Nebraska-Omaha and the women traveling north for a game at Green Bay.
We’ve got four months until the Mid-American Conference tournaments start, so here are the most anticipated games of the season:
Nonconference: Nov. 15 vs. James Madison. The first of three games NIU will play at home in the NIU Invitational. James Madison won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and was victorious in its “First Four” NCAA tournament game before falling to Indiana.
Sleeper: Dec. 31 at Iowa State. Abdel Nader, who transferred to Iowa State from NIU this offseason, won’t be playing for the Cyclones, but the last game of 2013 still will provide a stern road test for NIU.
MAC: Feb. 15 at Akron. The Zips were picked as the conference favorites in the preseason coaches poll, and NIU will have a tough road test traveling to Akron.
Sleeper: Jan. 15 vs. Kent State. Nader hit the game-winner at the buzzer against Kent State last season. Expect another close game in the Huskies’ conference home opener.
Wild card: Dec. 18 at Loyola. The Huskies suffered close losses against Loyola, Illinois-Chicago and DePaul last year. Can NIU win one against one of its better in-state rivals?
Nonconference: Nov. 17 at Wisconsin. Coach Kathi Bennett returns to Wisconsin where she was an assistant for three seasons before coming to NIU. The Badgers were only 12-19 last year, but still managed a 9-6 mark at home.
Sleeper: Nov. 12 vs. Mississippi Valley State. The Devilettes were one game from the NCAA tournament last year, losing in quadruple overtime to Prairie View A&M in the Southwest Athletic Conference tournament final.
MAC: Jan. 9 at Toledo. In only the Huskies’ second game of the conference slate, NIU travels to Toledo.
The Rockets went 15-1 in the MAC last season and lost only four games overall.
Sleeper: Jan. 4 vs. Ohio. The Huskies’ conference opener comes against a Bobcats squad that really struggled in the 2012-13 season. A win at home would be a good start for NIU.
Wild card: Nov. 21 vs. Bradley. The Braves beat NIU last season, 67-58, at the Renaissance Coliseum. This time NIU will play host, and the Huskies will look to get an early nonconference win.
– Ross Jacobson, firstname.lastname@example.org