NMU men prepare for very different Northwood, Saginaw squads

MARQUETTE — So far this year, it’s been a season of mixed results for the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team.

After opening with two wins at the GLIAC/GLVC Challenge in Houghton, the Wildcats dropped two games out in Minnesota before splitting two contests in the Gary Miller Classic last weekend.

Now the Wildcats (3-3) return to the Berry Events Center for a two-game homestand with their GLIAC opener tonight against Northwood (2-3) and a game against Saginaw Valley State (2-4) Saturday.

NMU head coach Bill Sall said Tuesday that his team is looking forward to opening up the conference season because now the games could have a real effect on the Wildcats’ season.

“I think always with your conference schedule, that’s the meat of what you want,” he said. “We all are gearing towards ‘okay now everybody is 0 and 0. Now through the course of these 20 games, where are we going to go?’ We’ve talked about that since September. It’s not like the preseason games don’t matter. Of course, they matter. Every time you touch the floor it matters. But now these games are in scenarios where the standings go up every week over who’s the winner and who’s the loser and at the end where are you going to be in the GLIAC standings.”

When looking at the Wildcats’ upcoming opponents, Sall said both Northwood and Saginaw are vastly different teams from the previous season with the Timberwolves focusing their offense in the paint and the Cardinals going a more fast-paced route.

“Northwood is an improved team, very different from last year,” he said. “They were guard-oriented and shot a lot of threes. This is a team, now with some new players, a transfer and a big freshman, that is way more interior-dominated and really trying to pound the ball in the post. They’ve had some nice success early in the season. They beat Indianapolis at Indy and just played Findlay last night and it was a close game throughout. Findlay is a perennial top 20 team so they (Northwood) are a much-improved team that will come in here and I think give us a whole lot of trouble with their bigness inside.

“Saginaw will be a very different team from what you’ve seen in the past. When you remember the past couple of years, they’ve been really strong and athletic. They are in more of a rebuilding phase right now. They’ve gone from that big size to a guard-oriented team that is really trying to play more up and down the floor. It’s kind of interesting. Two teams that are very different from where they were last year at this time.”

Looking back at last weekend, NMU had two tight contests, defeating Saint Rose on a last second tip-in by Isaiah Johnson, but falling to Gannon by three points. Sall said that he was pleased with how his team performed and felt that the close games will benefit them as they progress through the tough conference season.

“We are getting tougher as a team,” he said. “I think that’s the one thing that I certainly learned. Two good teams that we played and two close games. One game we closed out and won, and the other one, we had a chance to win and we didn’t. But in the same breath, I loved our toughness over the course of the weekend. Both of these teams had a lot of size and a lot of strength and very good athleticism. The battle throughout, I thought, was really good. I think it’s going to prepare us tremendously as we now get into the GLIAC season.”

Tonight’s game against Northwood starts at 6 p.m., while Saturday’s game against Saginaw begins at 11 a.m.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.