When NIU head basketball coach Mark Montgomery came to the podium to meet the media ahead of the 2020-21 season, it was apparent that no year in his decade at NIU compares to the offseason his team most recently embarked on.
Last season ended with so many question marks as the Mid American Conference pulled the plug on the season after NIU arrived in Cleveland for the MAC postseason tournament, following in the footsteps of the NBA and other NCAA conferences at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to coach Montgomery, one of the most difficult parts of this offseason was recruiting.
“You want to have a face-to-face interaction with players and coaches. You have to be able to recruit on the internet and trust coaches and players because the first time we’re meeting some players is when they arrive on campus.”
Another tall task facing the Huskies will be replacing NIU all-time leading scorer, Eugene German.
“You don’t replace a guy like Geno with one player, you do it by committee,” Montgomery stated.
Factoring in the departures of Noah McCarty and Lacey James, the Huskies will lose over 50% of their scoring output from last season. Montgomery believes in the depth on his roster, however.
“It’s great when you’re two deep at each position, we’re almost three deep at each position and our bigs give us flexibility.”
As for the challenges the team will face while playing a season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montgomery noted that they are shuffling living arrangements so not all of the guards or big men are staying together. This will give the Huskies the best chance to avoid falling short of the minimum number of players required for a team to suit up for a game.
NIU guards Trendon Hankerson and Tyler Cochran also met with the media to field questions ahead of the upcoming season. Both players acknowledged that the absence of Eugene German would alter their roles moving forward.
Hankerson even added that he will be the one to take “the shot” but also noted that a handful of other guys are capable of making the game-winner depending on what the situation calls for.
Both Hankerson and Cochran acknowledged that they would have to take on bigger roles this season in order to help the team win. The Huskies definitely don’t lack experience, but they only have three seniors and notably no freshmen on the roster. It will be interesting to see the offensive flow of this team, as they traditionally pride themselves on playing tough defense.
The Huskies begin non-conference play on Wednesday, November 25th as the UIC Flames travel to DeKalb to tip off the 2020 season. Additionally, NIU will play the current #5 team in the nation, Iowa, as part of their non-conference schedule. That matchup will undoubtedly serve as a measuring-stick game for the Huskies.
The Mid-American Conference coaches poll predicts the Huskies finishing tenth in the conference, which would prevent them from making this year’s modified eight-team MAC tournament.
Who will lead the way this season? How will NIU build off their quality 2019-20 campaign? Those questions and several others will be answered in the coming months, but the dawn of a new season is especially exciting this year considering how much was left on the table in 2019-20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.