Team preview: Northern Illinois

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Northern Illinois has momentum coming off last season. The objective in 2006-07 is to stay the course and not go in reverse.

"Our veteran guys understand what it takes to win," sixth-year coach Rob Judson said. "We hope we can keep moving forward."

The Huskies won the 2006 MAC West Division title -- the second conference title of any kind in the school's basketball history -- and were very close to so much more. It was a milestone campaign, but five one-point losses, including a 78-77 loss to Toledo in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals, kept NIU from a 20-win season and a likely postseason berth.

Northern and Judson had similar momentum after a breakout 2002-03 season when NIU finished 17-14 and reached the MAC Tournament semifinals. With all signs pointing up, the Huskies sagged in 2003-04 (10-20) and then had to rebuild in 2004-05.

To keep it going, Judson and his staff have restocked the roster with seven new players, including three junior-college standouts. The most glaring need was for bulk at power forward, and that void appears to be filled. That should help on defense, which was a team strength a year ago.

"Our defensive effort last season was more consistent," Judson said. "In the MAC, the important statistic is defensive field-goal percentage. We were third in the league (42.9) in that category, and if you look over the years, the top teams in the MAC usually are the leaders in that statistic. Then offensively, we were playing our best basketball when we had a high assist- to-basket ratio."