NIU’s season hasn’t gone exactly the way they were hoping so far. They opened with wins against Indiana State, Idaho, UIC, and Roosevelt but then dropped close games with Cal State Northridge, Elon, and Cal Poly plus lost the rematch with Indiana State by 11.
In addition to the 4-4 record for a team picked second in the MAC after a 21 win year, Minnesota born Marshawn Wilson, a player Minnesota wanted but like most schools couldn’t get him in to school, has had trouble getting on the court.
Wilson’s issues have been discipline related and he’s been relegated to the end of the bench. Marshawn will be at home playing in front of family and friends as he played at Hill-Murray High School in St. Paul as well as for the D1 Minnesota AAU team.
Minnesota will be the first major conference opponent of the season for NIU therefore they will be both motivated but also new to the experience of playing a major conference team. The Gophers are 9-1 and coming off a blowout win over Georgia Southern less than 48 hours ago. Richard Pitino and his staff practiced yesterday morning and then watched high school talent all day at the Breakdown Tip Off Classic.
Marshawn was expected to join center Marin Maric and Aaric Amstead as a fearsome trio of talented size, athletic ability, and shooting that few in the league have. Maric, a 6-foot-11 250 pound senior center from Croatia, is scoring 14.7 points per game shooting 55 percent from the floor, 37 percent at the arc, and 69 percent at the foul line.
Amstead, a 6-foot-5 senior guard from Chicago, is scoring 11.5 points per game with 6.8 rebounds but he’s struggling to shoot making only 35 percent of his 9 or 10 shots per contest. Talented sophomore 6-foot-8 power forward Jalen Key has picked up some of the slack with his 11.2 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
Key and 6th man Levi Bradley (7 points a game) played for Wisconsin United and were a big reason NIU worked so hard to get Marshawn Wilson no longer how long it took for things to work out when he signed late in the spring of his senior year.
The 6-foot-3, 205 pound Wilson from Oakdale, Minnesota averaged 11 points per game in 19 minutes a contest off the bench last year. He was named All MAC freshman after shooting 44 percent from the floor on 8 shots a game (half of those attempts were threes where Marshawn shot 41.5 percent plus was at the foul line five times a game).
This year it’s been a total different story. Wilson has been benched outright for two games and has only played 89 total minutes in the other six. Marshawn has yet to make a three this season and has only made five shots in the six games for his 2.2 points per game. Right now he’s really not in the rotation.
NIU could use the three point shooting he gave them last year because this season they are a hair over 30 percent from the arc. They’ve been fine on the glass at a plus 5.5 and the Huskies are getting their 77 points per game on balanced scoring with four guys in double figures (6-foot-2 sophomore guard Laytwan Porter is the other as he’s averaging 10 points).
Minnesota has had great scoring balance so far this year spreading the numbers around with six guys. Only three are averaging in double figures (Amir Coffey and Nate Mason at 13 points per game, Dupree McBrayer at 11.4) but three more are scoring between 8-10 a contest (Akeem Springs 8.9, Reggie Lynch 8.4, and Jordan Murphy 9.7). These numbers are nearly ideal although the Gophers are hoping for Murphy’s 44 percent foul shooting and 51 percent free throw shooting to improve which will improve his overall numbers.
The insert of the NIU sophomore talent from the Wisconsin United AAU team has made them a more athletic team. Bradley, Key, and Wilson, also Porter from Rockford, Illinois (who has also dealt with discipline issues), has given the Huskies the depth that many expected would make this bunch a scary team for Minnesota to face. The early season struggles of Amstead and Wilson have hurt their chances coming in.
Things won’t get any easier for Amstead as he will be forced to both defend at times, as well as score over the long arms of 6-foot-8 Amir Coffey and Minnesota’s top defender so far this year Akeem Springs. If the Gophers get the same consistent defensive effort from Springs that they’ve been getting, and the same team defensive effort the team gave on Friday, Amstead’s looks should be limited.
Size at center has given Minnesota problems this year and that could be the case with Maric at 6-foot-11. Maric is a skilled center who isn’t consistently physical but he can be aggressive with his offense. With Reggie Lynch and Bakary Konate behind him the Gophers should be able to keep Maric from a big game.
Can the Huskies, who have been struggling with discipline, defend a Minnesota team that just put together their most complete offensive game of the season? That’s the unlikely part. Nate Mason has really hit his stride and Porter may be able to give some defensive looks but hasn’t shown it with consistency. I would expect Minnesota to grind out several halfcourt possessions.
The Gophers may not win by the near 40 they did on Friday but I would expect another healthy win. By 28 in fact. Maybe NIU uses this game to motivate Marshawn Wilson since he is home which could help, or maybe he may want to get off the bus and stay here which is also possible. Either way this game could go really good for them, or really bad. We see Minnesota winning game number ten.
Minnesota 84 NIU 58