Records: Kent State (10-5, 1-1 MAC), Northern Illinois (7-7, 1-1 MAC).
When/Where: Tonight, 8 p.m./Convocation Center in DeKalb, Ill.
Radio: WHLO 640 AM.
Head Coaches: Rob Senderoff, Kent State (52-31, 3rd season); Mark Montgomery, Northern Illinois (17-58, 3rd season).
2012-13 Records: Kent State 21-14, 9-7 MAC; Northern Illinois 5-25, 3-13 MAC.
Series: Northern Illinois leads 32-18. Kent State had won the last 11 matchups before falling 67-65 last year in DeKalb.
Scouting Northern Illinois
Little was expected this season from the Huskies, who lost their best player (Abdel Nader, who transferred to Iowa State) from a team that won just five games a year ago. But they've become the most improved squad in the MAC on the strength of defense and rebounding. Northern Illinois ranks second in the conference in scoring defense (64 ppg), fresh off a 45-36 victory at Bowling Green on Sunday, and leads the league in rebounding margin (plus-5.9). The Huskies' offense isn't pretty to watch -- they average just 8.6 assists per game and shoot 39 percent from the field, both lowest in the MAC by far, but they make up for those deficiencies by attacking the offensive glass (league-best 14.6 offensive rebounds per game) and playing solid defense. ... Freshman guard Dontel Highsmith is the only player averaging double-figure points (10.5 ppg), and he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Dec. 31 loss to Iowa State. Sophomore wing Darrell Bowie averages 9.6 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds.
Kent State snapped a three-game losing streak with an 86-74 victory over Ball State on Saturday, rallying from a 12-point second-half deficit. During that battle, the Flashes emerged from a lengthy shooting slump. They had failed to reach 41 percent shooting from the field in the six games prior to facing the Cardinals, and shot only 41.4 percent in the first half against BSU. But they shot 64.3 percent, while scoring 54 points in the decisive second half. ... Junior point guard Kris Brewer leads a balanced KSU offense at 11.9 points per game, followed by junior guard Derek Jackson (10.9 ppg) and senior forward Darren Goodson (10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds), who scored a career-high 23 points off the bench against Ball State. Senior forward Mark Henniger (8.9 ppg) leads the team in rebounding at 5.5 per game, while junior guard Devareaux Manley (9.5 ppg) has made a team-high 31 3-pointers. ... The Flashes rank third in the MAC in scoring (74.3 ppg) and second in 3-point shooting percentage (35.2 percent). ... Kent State, 2-2 on the road, will visit Buffalo (8-4, 2-0) on Saturday.
Senderoff on Northern Illinois
"They're a really physical team. They do a great job rebounding. In the league, their defense has been phenomenal. They press for tempo purposes, to slow things down, and they force you to shoot over them in the halfcourt. They're probably playing with as much confidence as I've seen in the three years I've been here. They don't have anybody that you key on, but they have a number of guys that can play a little bit and who, if they get hot, can cause problems."
Senderoff on Kent State
"For us, the No. 1 key to the game is rebounding. We've got to rebound the basketball against them. Second, we've gotta make sure when we drive the basketball, that we're looking to kick and find open shooters, because they all converge on the ball. Then, lastly, we have to take care of the basketball, because they do a very good job of digging it out on drives and when it goes into the post. We lost there last year. It's gonna be a challenge."
Countdown to Akron: 16 days.
-- Allen Moff