The 2020-21 NIU basketball season has been nothing short of disappointing up in the early going. The Huskies are eight games into the 2020 campaign and hold a 1-7 record with that lone win coming against perennial punching bag Chicago State, who has since opted out of the remainder of the season. In a year where the conference tournament takes on a new format due to COVID-19, the chances the Huskies would even get to Cleveland to be one of the eight teams in this year’s MAC tournament continue to decrease by the day. NIU’s average margin of defeat is 23.5 points, which means they’re not just losing — they’re getting blown out.
One of the main reasons for those large deficits is that the Huskies only returned 42.7% of their scoring output from the 2019 season. They lost three of their key players to graduation in Noah McCarty, Lacey James, and Eugene German, the program’s all-time leading scorer. In addition to losing so much in the scoring department, the 2020-21 NIU men’s basketball roster consists of zero freshmen and features players such as Darius Beane, Trendon Hankerson, and Tyler Cochran. These circumstances have forced several players to step into new roles.
After seeing a 20-point lead evaporate on opening night against UIC, this Huskies team has looked out of sorts in almost every contest. Slow, strung-out possessions, the lack of a true post presence, and an inability to put the ball in the bucket have resulted in an average of just 57.1 PPG on 38.2% from the field. The team’s defense is at a disadvantage when the offense can’t produce scoring possessions at the other end of the court, as they only record so many stops in a row to stop the bleeding.
As a result of this tumultuous start, NIU and head coach Mark Montgomery have mutually agreed to part ways. In a statement from the NIU Athletic Department, athletic director Sean Frazier delivered the following message: “We thank Coach Montgomery for his commitment to NIU and his efforts to advance NIU men’s basketball over the last ten seasons.”
Frazier added that NIU will be conducting a national search for a new coach to head up the men’s basketball coach. For now, associate coach Lamar Chapman will take over the head coach position on an interim basis for the remainder of the 2021 season.
Coach Chapman is now in his fourth season as a member of the NIU men’s basketball staff. Before his stint in DeKalb, he spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at Stony Brook University. This is an excellent opportunity for Chapman to prove what he’s capable of as a head coach, as the team has talented players who are all assuming new roles considering the circumstances.
The Huskies still have plenty of time to salvage this season and finish it in Cleveland, but they must start piling up wins immediately. They’ll have their next opportunity to do so when they travel to Athens, Ohio on Tuesday to take on Jason Preston and the Ohio Bobcats, who currently have a 92.6% chance to win the contest according to ESPN’s Matchup Predictor.