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NIU

The case for NIU's German as MAC Player of the Year

NIU guard Eugene German (10) shoots a finger roll over Miami Redhawks forward Dalonte Brown (13) in DeKalb Feb. 1.
NIU guard Eugene German (10) shoots a finger roll over Miami Redhawks forward Dalonte Brown (13) in DeKalb Feb. 1.

Consecutive seasons before his senior year, Eugene German received second-team all-Mid-American Conference honors for his performance during the season.

And for player of the year Loren Cristian Jackson of Akron, a phenomenally talented guard who filled the bucket up to the tune of 23.2 points per game in MAC play for the MAC regular season champion Zips, his selection is completely understandable.

But there's a case for Northern Illinois' Eugene German. How about some context first.

Last season, Buffalo's C.J. Massinburg deservedly received Player of the Year honors during a season in which he led Buffalo to as high as a No. 14 national ranking before NIU knocked them off in DeKalb. The Bulls later went on to earn a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

A strong case could have been made German should have been considered the third, or even second-best player in the conference. Instead, German was named to the second team for the second straight year.

Toledo's Tre'Shaun Fletcher winning the award in the 2017-2018 season, a year in which the Rockets finished atop the MAC West standings by two games and Massinburg of MAC East winner Buffalo could have been selected, represents another example of the winning being prioritized among voters. Which is all fine and dandy in both instances.

It's a long way of saying that it makes sense Cristian Jackson was rewarded for his spectacular year for the resurgent Zips, who went 14-4 in the MAC.

No Huskies player had won player of the year since Paul Dawkins did so in the 1978-1979 season. And it's fair statistically given NIU has had 10 winning seasons since then, and only three with at least 20 wins.

If any Huskies player stood a chance of winning the award, it was German, who displayed the type of game and posted the types of performances the program hasn't seen in decades.

Yes, there are former Huskies who made the NBA from NIU, including Kenny Battle, Paul Dawkins, Abdel Nader, Xavier Silas, Donald Whiteside and Bob Wood, but perhaps only Battle (an Illinois graduate) and Dawkins, who was fifth in the nation in scoring at 26.7 points per game as a senior, have the type of individual pedigree German has displayed. Dawkins went on to a vaunted Turkish League career, and it's easy to be inclined toward thinking German will find tremendous professional success at some level.

German's quick first-step, excellent range, finishing ability and his flashes of one-man fast break displays, combined with his willingness to improve on specific aspects of his game (passing, defense), show that he's taken the type of strides he's needed to keep improving. Far and away the best player on the team the last three years and arguably for parts of his freshman year, German was the best player on the floor the vast majority of the times he played this season.

The MAC's fifth all-time leading scorer would have had a chance to continue climbing the ladder of scoring leaders, as Eastern Michigan's Earl Boykins' total of 2,211 left him just eight points ahead of German's total of 2,203 for fourth all-time in the conference.

German stepped up to the test as the only major scoring threat for a team that won its most conference games (11) since 2003 under Rob Judson, when the Huskies finished second in the West. He embraced the defensive identity that made NIU better, despite being a year removed from losing standout seniors Dante Thorpe and Levi Bradley, Thorpe arguably being better offensively and defensively than any player other than German on this season's roster.

Cristian Jackson's support system, albeit not a knock on him at all, ensured that teams could not overwhelmingly focus their defensive gameplans around stopping him. German did not have that luxury. Instead, NIU had pieces on this years' team geared toward succeeding on the defensive end.

Akron easily got the best of NIU 72-49 on Jan. 14 in DeKalb, a game in which German scored the same amount of points as Cristian Jackson, but was far less efficient. That, plus some explosive performances toward the end of the season was likely enough to propel the MAC Champions' best player to the award.

But with the cancellation of the rest of the MAC men's basketball tournament, and all NCAA winter and spring championship events, we won't get to see a Cristian Jackson versus German matchup that may well have been coming. And given how determined German was last year during the tournament, and it sure showed, it's a shame we won't get to see them square off once more.

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