GAMES NOTES: Two teams heading in opposite directions will pair up on Saturday afternoon when the Massachusetts Minutemen visit the Northern Illinois Huskies at the Convocation Center.
Last Saturday, UMass topped East Carolina 88-81 to earn its fourth straight victory. The winning streak has moved the Minutemen to a solid 7-3 record overall. UMass has played only two true road games this season but came out on top in both with victories against Siena (64-63) and Elon (78-73). The Minutemen get another Mid-American Conference opponent on the road next when they face Miami-Ohio next Wednesday.
Northern Illinois has been struggling to find answers. The Huskies have lost four straight games since their second win of the season against SIU Edwardsville. The Huskies have been particularly brutal on the road (0-7) so a return to the Convocation Center could help them end their slide. The Huskies open up MAC play against Miami-Ohio on Jan. 9.
These teams have met just once before. That meeting came during the 2007-08 season when UMass routed Northern Illinois, 102-87, at the McCleod Center.
On two separate occasions UMass ripped off 14-0 runs against East Carolina in last Saturday's victory. The Minutemen shot just 40.6 percent from the floor in the game but had a 24-12 edge in points off turnovers and nailed 10 3-pointers. Chaz Williams had a monster game with 26 points and 11 assists.
The Minutemen have managed to score at a rather impressive rate (73.8 ppg) despite shooting .403 from the field. Unfortunately UMass has also had a tendency to allow teams to run up big point totals by letting up 75.0 points per game on 42.8 percent shooting. The Minutemen are also on the short end in rebounds (-1.8) despite averaging a solid 38.0 boards per game. The backcourt duo of Chaz Williams (16.5 ppg, 7.4 apg) and Jesse Morgan (16.0 ppg) power the offense. Williams can knock down shots from just about anywhere on the floor and is currently ranked seventh in the nation in assists. Terrell Vinson (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is the top scorer in the frontcourt but the Minutemen lack a great deal of production in that area.
Northern Illinois trailed by as many as 15 points in its most recent loss, a 67-57 setback against Washington. The visiting Huskies shot just 31.6 percent from the field and were outscored both from the 3-point line (27-15) and the charity stripe (22-8). Abdel Nader came off the bench to score 18 points in the losing effort.
Scoring is not a strength for Northern Illinois. The Huskies are scoring only 56.7 points per game and shooting a poor 38.2 percent from the field. Both of those marks are among the 20 worst in the country. Northern Illinois also struggles to move the ball with the team managing only 9.4 assists per game. On defense the Huskies are a bit more respectable allowing 65.1 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting. Nader (15.0 ppg) missed the first seven games of the season but has been scoring well since his return. He is the only player on the roster scoring in double figures. Akeem Springs (9.7 ppg) is the closest thing to a second option, while nine other players score at least three points per game.
Homecourt advantage means nothing if you can't score. The Huskies have struggled in that area all season and against a UMass team that has a scoring threat like Williams, Northern Illinois could be in trouble.