By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
There really is only one way to tell if your basketball team is improving from week to week - it's how you play in games. Everybody always looks improved in practice; it's games that tell the truth.
The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team will get the opportunity to see if it has improved from its first weekend of competition when it hosts the University of Regina at 7:30 p.m. today at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
It was just over a week ago when the Lights traveled to Saskatoon, Sask. for their first game of the season. And well, the Lights played like it was their first game of the season, losing 74-52 to the University of Saskatchewan.
Northern rebounded with a win a day later. However, head coach Shawn Huse has eagerly been awaiting this week's set of three games as not only a chance to play at home, but to see how his team has progressed since then.
"We've worked on a little bit of everything," Huse said. "With a new group of players like this, it takes time to teach everything we want to do."
When Huse means everything, he means from team offense, to individual defense, from how the team should line up on the floor, to how it should sit on the bench, from what it means to wear a Northern uniform, to how it's actually supposed to be worn.
"Pretty much top-to-bottom everything we do," Huse reiterated. "It's a long process, but being able to watch film and point out those things we're doing wrong and what we need to right helps. The film doesn't lie."
One thing that Huse will want to see improve is his team's execution, specifically on offense. Northern shot a paltry 34 percent from the field, including 27 percent in the second half in its first game and just under 39 percent from the field over the weekend.
The Lights also committed a whopping 31 turnovers while only picking up 12 assists in two games, including 22 turnovers in the first game. Huse knew his team's offense may be behind its defense early in the season. He's being patient, yet positive.
"We're still running the same style of offense that attacks opponents and forces the tempo," he said. "I don't know if we'll score as many points per game, but we'll be more balanced. We're going to be predictably unpredictable, which is sometimes more difficult to stop. It's just going to take some time."
Northern has plenty of time and opportunities to work on offense, particularly this week. The Lights will play a stretch of three home games starting tonight, followed by a game against Dickinson State on Thursday and an afternoon affair against Minot State on Sunday.
"We know we have got three good, tough opponents this week," Huse said. "If we execute all of those little things we've been working on, we should be more than competitive."
The games should also be competitive.
University of Regina is 2-4 on the season, but has defeated the University of Saskatchewan squad that beat the Lights. The Cougars are averaging just under 80 points per game, but surrendering 86 points per game, which could be an antidote to Northern's offensive woes.
Regina is led by 6-1 point guard Joel Hunter, who is averaging 19.7 points per game and is shooting over 50 percent from the field and from three-point range.
Also averaging in double figures is 6-3 forward Tai Tuisamoa, who is rolling up 12.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Shooting guard Bryden Knight is scoring 12.3 points per game, while 6-5 forward Greg McKoy is averaging seven points and seven rebounds per game.
"They've played plenty of games," Huse said. "So they will be game ready. They are a scrappy team that is going to play hard."
Things won't get any easier on Thursday as Northern takes on DSU - a school that swept the Lights in a pair of games last season.
"We know Dickinson is going to be a good team," Huse said. "They've got a lot of active, athletic players."
The Blue Hawks did lose their 1-2 scoring punch of Kasey Ulin and Konrad Tota, who accounted for more than 40 points per game. But head coach Scott Berry seems to reload with top talent every year.
DSU returns starting point guard Scott Klaudt along with contributors Derek Miller, Tyler Greff and Jake Schmitz. However, they did lose starter Cameron Rowland and reserve Dan Barraclaugh to injury.
Berry has close to 15 new faces who are all expected to vie for playing time led by redshirts Denver Bethel and Aaron Brown a pair of 6-2 guards and 6-6 forward Willis Woods. Also joining the Blue Hawks are 6-8 transfer Ryan Rostvold, 6-5 forward Alex Perkins, 6-4 guard Terrance Anderson and 6-2 guard Parfait Nayigihugu.
"We know Dickinson is going to be very aggressive and put a lot of pressure on you offensively and defensively," Huse said. "We just have be prepared to weather the storm."
Northern will wrap up its homestand on Sunday with a 4 p.m. game against the Minot State Beavers. The two teams split last year's games with each winning on the other's home floor. Both games were decided in the final seconds and Huse expects nothing less again.
"We always seem to have close games with Minot," he said. "They never seem to be dull."
The Beavers did lose All-American guard Jeff Brandt and all-conference forward Kent Bloms to graduation. Both players gave Huse fits last season. However, the cupboard is far from bare in Minot. MSU returns 6-2 shooting guard Qasim Ward, 6-2 point guard Lance Allerdings and 6-5 center Jeremy Feller. Minot also brought in several junior college transfers led by 6-5 guard Josh Chambers and 6-5 forward T.J. Collins.
Both Minot and Dickinson will be playing in their first games of the season this week. So Huse feels his team has a little advantage, having played already this season. However, he is more concerned with what his team is doing than his opponents.
"We're focusing about 60 percent on how we do things and 40 percent on our opponents," Huse said. "We're still really working on us getting better than worrying about what other teams are doing. We still want to come out every night and play to win, but I'm not willing to sacrifice on how we do those little things to get wins."