Dec 14, 2013; Amherst, MA, USA; Northern Illinois Huskies guard Dontel Highsmith (4) shoots the ball against Massachusetts Minutemen guard Derrick Gordon (2) during the first half at Mullins Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois vs Iowa State men's basketball: Game preview and prediction

Iowa State (11-0) will be coming into Hilton Coliseum with a heavy heart after learning about the passing of former head coach Johnny Orr on Tuesday morning.

However, there’s still a game to be played. Northern Illinois (5-5) isn’t an incredibly hard opponent to prepare for before the brutal Big 12 conference play begins, but it falls in that category of a trap game during the holidays that the Cyclones can’t just look past.

Dec 23, 2013; Honolulu, HI, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Monte Morris (11) drives towards the basket against the Akron Zips during the second half of the NCAA basketball game at Stan Sheriff Center. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois Huskies vs Iowa State Cyclones

James H. Hilton Coliseum | Ames, Iowa
Tip-off: New Year’s Eve, 6:00 PM CT | Web: Cyclones.tv (also on Mediacom Cable)

Northern Illinois currently sits at third-to-last in the Mid-American Conference. They weren’t anticipated to do much this season with an incredibly young squad. There’s only two seniors on the team, F/G Aksel Bolin and guard Antone Christian, but neither of them have been standout players.

George Mason is most comparable to the Huskies when it comes to basic stats – they struggle offensively. NIU averages 66.3 points (295th nationally) and 9.2 assists (344th nationally) per game. However, those stats almost mirror their defensive averages. There in the top 100 nationally in points given up (64.3), assists given up (11.4), and hold teams to 40.3 percent from the field.

The scariest part about facing this team is because of another long layoff from the trip to Hawai’i, facing a team like the Patriots last week who are competitive on defense, and rebounding. There’s a lot of things Northern Illinois is bad at, but rebounding is one of their strengths. They average 38.8 rebounds per game; 13.9 of those are on the offensive end (31st nationally).

What to watch for

NIU’s best weapon is their emerging freshman guard, Dontel Highsmith. He’s hit double figures in four of his last five games, and he’s shooting at an incredibly consistent 54 percent from the field. He’s also made 6 of 18 3-point shots on the year.

It will be interesting to see how Iowa State, or specifically DeAndre Kane, will attack. He didn’t pass the ball around as much against Boise State, but responded with one of his best offensive performances of the season. Facing a team that’s been decent at stopping ball movement, we’ll find out NIU can make a dent or if it’s just been lacking in their opponents.

Prediction

Their could be a little bit of slowness out of the gate for Iowa State, especially with how they’ve started games, the layoff since last Wednesday, and especially with a tribute to the passing of Johnny Orr. But don’t expect that to last for 40 minutes.

The Cyclones should end up dominating. The Huskies shoot 65.4 percent from the free throw line (286th nationally), have just 92 total assists on the year (2nd-worst nationally), and have an abysmal assist-to-turnover ratio because of it. Highsmith and offensive rebounding have been the small bright spots for NIU, but they lack the talent to compete with Iowa State on the boards and there’s a vast, bigger arsenal for the Cyclones when it comes to shooting the rock.

Northern Illinois hasn’t beaten anyone on their schedule that has an RPI higher than 251 (San Jose State, 60-59). They lost to UMass, their toughest opponent, by 26 points. They also suffered losses to Nebraska, Nebraska-Omaha, and James Madison. Iowa State should stroll into conference play undefeated.

IAST 81, NIU 63 (Odds: NIU +24, O137.5)

Tags: Basketball Deandre Kane Dontel Highsmith Iowa State Cyclones

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