The Marquette Golden Eagles will look to bounce back from their first loss of the season when they host the Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday night at Fiserv Forum. Northern Illinois is off to a rough start at 1-4 after taking a 67-60 loss to the Little Rock Trojans on Monday at the Jacksonville Classic as a 3.5-point underdog. Marquette last played in a 70-54 defeat to the No. 16 St. Bonaventure Bonnies as a three-point underdog in the title game of the Charleston Classic last Sunday and is now 5-1 for the season.
These teams have met eight times before, with Marquette holding a 6-2 advantage after winning the most recent matchup 79-70 at home back in December of 2017.
NIU hopes to snap four-game losing streakAfter starting the first season under head coach Rashon Bruno with an upset of the Washington Huskies, Northern Illinois has been unable to get back in the win column since and lost both of its matchups in the Jacksonville Classic. Northern Illinois never led on Monday against Little Rock and even trailed 50-24 midway through the second before putting together a massive 23-4 run that ended up not being enough.
A 16-0 run by the Huskies over the last 5 minutes!! Hankerson, Kueth and Thornton with 3s and more!! Little Rock 57, NIU 48 with 3:47 to play.— NIU Men's Basketball (@GoHuskiesMBB) November 22, 2021
Kaleb Thornton led the Huskies with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Trendon Hankerson added 10 points and three steals. It was a massive struggle for the Northern Illinois offense, which shot just 34.6% from the field including a miserable 5/21 from two-point range.
"Those guys competed at a high level which I love, so that's a positive we can take away from this," Bruno said to Northern Illinois' website. "Those guys stepped up they showed a lot of heart and a lot of determination… they did some things today that influenced games and brought us back in this game."
Northern Illinois is just 1-4 against the spread, although the one win was a big one as it beat Washington outright as a 19.5-point favorite. Overs are also 1-4 for the Huskies, as their only game to go over the betting total so far came against Boston University at the Jacksonville Classic.
Offense is the main source of concern right now, with Northern Illinois ranking second-worst in the entire nation with 55 points per game on shooting splits of 33.3% from two and 34.9% from three. The Huskies have fared much better on the defensive side, allowing 69.2 points per game with opponents shooting 46.1% from two and 30% from deep.
Hankerson is the only Northern Illinois player in double figures at 11.8 points per game while adding an average of 1.8 steals. Keshawn Williams adds 9.4 points per game, while Thornton records 6.4 points and a team-high 2.6 assists per contest.
Everyone has been healthy and available for the Huskies so far, with no new injuries reported heading into the weekend.
Marquette no match for St. BonaventureIt's been a strong start to the Shaka Smart era at Marquette, but the Golden Eagles' undefeated run came to an end in the title game at the Charleston Classic as they were manhandled by a top 20 St. Bonaventure team. Marquette jumped out to a 4-0 advantage but didn't lead again after that, with the Bonnies putting together an extended 24-4 run spanning halftime with the Marquette offense getting totally shut down in the first 10 minutes of the second.
Justin Lewis turned in a strong effort to lead Marquette with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while David Joplin had 10 points off the bench. It was a massive struggle to score otherwise, as Marquette shot 30.4% from the floor including 6/27 from three-point range.
“I just want to see my team respond better than we did out there (against the Bonnies)," Lewis told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Very sad, disappointing loss. But I feel like we’re going to pick it up. I just know good things are going to happen for us and our group. We just need to learn from this and get better as quickly as possible."
Marquette is an even 3-3 against the spread, and it had covered in three straight games including a big win over West Virginia prior to the blowout loss against the Bonnies. Overs are 4-2 for the Golden Eagles after the contest against St. Bonaventure went well under the betting total.
The Golden Eagles are roughly average statistically on both sides of the ball, with the offense racking up 74 points per game on shooting splits of 50% from two and 32.3% from three. Opponents are putting up an average of 71 points per game while shooting 48.2% from two and 33.1% from deep against the Golden Eagles.
Lewis is starting to attract some NBA attention with 17.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game to begin the season. Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell has been a huge addition with 17.3 points per game, while George Mason transfer Tyler Kolek provides 8.3 points and 5.2 assists per contest.
With junior guard Greg Elliott returning from a suspension during the Charleston Classic, everyone figures to be available for Marquette on Saturday.
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Full-Game Side Bet
While Marquette couldn't hang in against a great St. Bonaventure team, Smart has already given the program a burst of energy to go along with some strong additions in the transfer portal. There just isn't enough offense for rebuilding Northern Illinois to compete with a decent Big East team, and the Marquette defense will be in total control here.
Smart has particularly been a fresh of breath air for the Marquette defense, which has been playing with the chaotic energy typical of his teams while climbing quickly to No. 64 in KenPom. That's going to be too much of a challenge for the Northern Illinois offense, which is 335th in KenPom while shooting the ball horrendously from everywhere on the floor, leading to results like a 76-58 loss against Boston University.
On the other side, Northern Illinois doesn't have a lot of size so Lewis should continue to feast inside, while Morsell should bounce back from a rough showing against the stingy St. Bonaventure defense to provide more scoring. The Huskies are on quite the slide against the spread right now, and Marquette is good enough with new leadership to handle a matchup like this easily.
Full-Game Total Pick
Northern Illinois games have skewed under so far due to the combination of its very inefficient offense and slow pace, which is typically around 67 possessions per game. That has led to some ugly performances like Northern Illinois putting up 37 points against Missouri and 49 points against Indiana, with a similar stat line likely to happen on Saturday.
Marquette is still working some things out offensively with just a 49.3 team effective field goal percentage on the season, with Morsell standing out as the only real big perimeter threat for the moment. Don't trust the Huskies to contribute enough offensively to reach this total, and Marquette will slow things down some when it gets a big lead.