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Know Your "Wait, We Have a Game Tomorrow?" Rival: Northern Illinois

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There is snow on the ground, the students are still very much out of town, and half the fanbase probably doesn't even realize Mizzou has a basketball game tomorrow night.  I predict a ... less than intense Mizzou Arena atmosphere.  We'll see what kind of hangover Mizzou has following the great Braggin' Rights win.  They can afford to play less than their best against visiting Northern Illinois, but ... let's put this one out of reach early anyway, okay?

Northern Illinois: 3-6

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
Points Per Possession (PPP)
Points Per Shot (PPS)
2-PT FG% 45.5%
3-PT FG% 34.0%
FT% 74.0%
True Shooting % 53.1%

NIU Opp.
Assists 12.8
Steals 6.3
Turnovers 14.8
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO

NIU Opp.
Expected Offensive Rebounds 12.8
Offensive Rebounds 12.8
Difference +0.0

For the most part, Northern Illinois is just good enough to not get blown out too much.  Only two of their six losses have come by more than 12 points, and looking at the above stats, you can see why.  They are good at nothing (other than free throw shooting) and decent at just about everything.  They break even on the boards, their ball control skills are decent, they get to the line a lot.  There's really just one thing at which they stink ... I can't quite put my finger on what it is ... hmm ...

...oh, right.  Defense.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

NIU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

NIU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 171
MU big
Effective FG% 232
Turnover % 200
MU big
Off. Reb. % 91
NIU big
NIU big
MU Offense vs NIU Defense Ranks

MU Offense NIU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 16
MU big
Effective FG% 39
MU big
Turnover % 29
MU big
Off. Reb. % 101
MU big

Where the Huskies are weakest

There are few teams in the country who play worse defense than Northern Illinois.  They allow open shot after open shot, they don't force turnovers/steal the ball (278th in Def. Steal%), they give you at least one more chance on virtually every miss, they don't block shots (289th in Def. Block%) ... they really seem to just try to get you to score so they can get the ball back.

Oh, and they're not tall (288th in Effective Height). There is but a slight difference between the physical makeup of the last Illinois team Mizzou played (U of I) and the next one (NIU).

Where they are best

Their offense is pretty good, especially considering they don't shoot the ball particularly well.  The entire team hits the offensive glass pretty well (only one player has an Off. Reb. % of over 11%, but they rank in the Top 100 overall), and they get to the line. A lot.  They also make their free throws (they rank 33rd in FT%).  Stud small forward Xavier Silas shoots nine free throws per game and makes 90% of them.  Meanwhile, freshman Charles Barkley clone Nate Rucker averages almost five attempts per game himself.

Also: either by necessity or design, they are deep.  Eleven players average at least nine minutes per game, and they rank 23rd in the country in Ken Pomeroy's Bench Minutes measure.

NIU's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    No. 237 Illinois-Chicago, 80-78
    at No. 338 Maryland-Eastern Shore, 86-80
    Cardinal Stritch, 81-57
  • Losses
    at No. 29 Temple, 74-84
    No. 53 Northwestern, 78-97
    No. 92 Boise State, 51-80
    at No. 149 Southern Illinois, 49-61
    at No. 154 Bradley, 63-66
    at No. 179 DePaul, 84-86

The Huskies have played three teams ranked in the Top 148 of Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and they are 0-3, having averaged 19-point loss.  They played Temple close in Philadelphia, and all three of their other road losses have been competitive, but still.  They are 0-6 against Top 225 teams.  There is no positive spin for that one.  Like I said, they are good enough to avoid blowouts for the most part, but they are not nearly good enough to pose a serious threat.

NIU Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Xavier Silas (6'5, 198, Sr.) 25.2 0.78 32.1 MPG, 26.2 PPG (43.2% 3PT, 90.1% FT), 4.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 4.3 TOPG
Bryan Hall (6'1, 168, Jr.) 7.6 0.34 22.1 MPG, 5.2 PPG (47.7% FG), 3.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.6 TOPG
Nate Rucker (6'6, 245, Fr.) 6.8 0.30 23.1 MPG, 7.2 PPG (51.4% FG), 4.4 RPG, 2.0 TOPG
Jeremy Landers (6'2, 185, Sr.) 6.5 0.46 14.0 MPG, 6.1 PPG (48.8% FG), 2.3 RPG
Tim Toler (6'7, 270, Jr.) 5.1 0.22 22.9 MPG, 7.1 PPG (41.7% FG), 3.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.8 TOPG
Tony Nixon (6'4, 200, So.) 5.0 0.28 17.8 MPG, 6.5 PPG (32.3% 3PT), 2.0 RPG
Lee Fisher (6'5, 212, Jr.) 4.6 0.29 15.9 MPG, 2.6 PPG (38.1% 2PT), 4.1 RPG, 1.1 APG
Aksel Bolin (6'7, 200, Fr.) 3.9 0.33 11.9 MPG, 3.3 PPG (37.5% FG), 1.5 RPG
Antone Christian (6'2, 189, RSFr.) 3.1 0.33 9.4 MPG, 2.5 PPG (23.8% FG), 2.3 RPG
Michael Patton (5'10, 189, Sr.) 1.1 0.08 12.6 MPG, 3.2 PPG (34.8% 3PT), 1.6 APG, 1.4 TOPG
Cameron Madlock (6'9, 215, Jr.) -0.4 -0.03 13.1 MPG, 0.9 PPG (14.3% FG!), 2.7 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Silas (37%), Landers (21%), Nixon (21%)
  • Highest Floor%: Hall (43%), Landers (43%), Silas (42%)
  • Highest %Pass: Hall (71%), Patton (63%), Fisher (60%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Nixon (47%), Madlock (44%), Christian (41%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Rucker (34%), Bolin (26%), Silas (19%)
  • Highest %TO: Rucker (20%), Silas (11%), Toler (11%)
  • Few dominate the ball like Xavier Silas.  He is fifth in the country in Usage%, but for the most part, positive things happen when he has the ball in his hands.  He ranks seventh in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and, since he makes almost all of his free throws, he ranks 20th in the country in True Shooting%.  He is a highly efficient scorer who could get both Kim English and Matt Pressey into foul trouble rather quickly, he pulls down a few boards, and he makes a few nice passes.  Granted, he also turns the ball over a ton, but that's as much because of how much he controls the ball as anything else.  (Then again, against DePaul and their pressure defense, he turned the ball over eight times. And DePaul's not even very good at the pressure defense.  Hmm.)
  • Fun tidbit about Bryan Hall: he is a 6'1 point guard who, in 199 minutes, has yet to attempt a 3-pointer.  Play ten feet off of him -- he won't make you pay.
  • Nate Rucker is an intriguing player.  As with Ricky Kreklow (NOOOOOOOOOOOOK!!!), something is always happening when Rucker touches the ball.  He's either shooting, getting fouled, or turning the ball over.  He does all three in droves.  His %Pass: 6%.
  • This is mean, but I'm not sure you'll see a less-impressive stat line than what Cameron Madlock has put together so far.  In 92 total minutes (over two full games), he has shot 2-for-14 from the field and 2-for-4 from the line.  Oh, and he has committed 20 fouls, meaning he would foul out in just over 20 minutes of action.  He has blocked five shots, and his defensive rebound rate isn't atrocious, but ... yikes.

Keys to the Game

  1. Don't Let Silas Score Over 30.  Silas has scored 34 or more points four times this season, and the Huskies are 3-1 when he does (the one loss: a 2-pointer to DePaul).  Let's see ... quick math ... that means they're 0-5 when he doesn't erupt.  Sometimes when a player dominates the ball to Silas' degree, it's to the team's detriment.  With Silas, it is a necessity.  In NIU's 'biggest' win (if you can call it that), against UIC, Silas scored 40 points -- 8-for-18 from the field, 22-for-24 from the line.  If he doesn't score in droves, they don't win.  Simple.

  2. Show Up.  Rebound. Make your open shots (of which there should be plenty against this terrible defense).  Don't be careless with the ball.  Do these things, and you win by 20.  NIU can only win if Mizzou isn't motivated.

  3. Ricardo Ratliffe.  Sure, Ratliffe isn't the best dunker you've ever seen, but that's alright; the guy has lovely touch around the basket and has provided an undeniable lift to the Mizzou offense.  But his positive impact on Mizzou's overall rebounding has regressed as the season has unfolded, and that needs to change.  No better time than tomorrow.


Mizzou Arena will not be rocking for this one, but it wasn't for Central Arkansas either.  If MIzzou is motivated, this one gets out of hand.  If not, if they are a step slow on defense and let Silas and Rucker make homes at the free throw line ... well, they will still probably win, but it won't be enjoyable.  As the perpetual optimist, I say Mizzou shows up ready to roll, and roll they do: Mizzou 92, Northern Illinois 66.