HOUGHTON - The Michigan Tech men's basketball team faces a litmus test this weekend.
Are the Huskies a contender for the GLIAC title? Will Tech be returning to the NCAA Tournament?
Those questions will not be definitively answered yet, but with Northwood (13-7 overall, 9-3 GLIAC) and Lake Superior State (17-3 overall, 9-3 GLIAC) at the SDC today and Saturday, respectively, the Huskies will have a good idea where they stand after matching up against the pair tied for the North Division lead.
Michigan Tech’s Troy Hecht releases a jumper in the second half of a game earlier this month against Ferris State. Hecht and the Huskies face Northwood at home tonight. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"I'm not going to say its do or die, because there are 10 games left, but let me put it this way. We are going to find out where we fit in," Tech coach Kevin Luke said. "That is fair to say. Whether we are in the top or the middle.
"We are going to know after Monday night where we are."
With a 4-0 record in non-conference and sweep of Ferris and Grand Valley State two weeks ago, Tech has plenty of reason to think its title contention is real.
Road losses to Saginaw Valley last Saturday and Ashland three weeks ago - both 3-9 in GLIAC play - give pause to that notion though.
How the Huskies perform against red-hot Northwood (five straight wins) will do quite a bit to clear up the picture.
"I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but I know our team is ready to compete," Luke said. "You can't pick a better team than Northwood. they beat Lake State at Lake State so they are a handful."
The Huskies have won six straight against the Timberwolves, including a 90-80 overtime thriller in the GLIAC quarterfinals last season.
Northwood returns much of that team, however, including Wes Wilcox, the league's No. 8 scorer at 19.4 points per game.
Wilcox dragged Northwood into overtime last year with an astounding and versatile offensive display, scoring 28 points on 7-of-9 shooting with 14 free throw attempts.
He fits the mold the Huskies have struggled with all season - e.g. Greg Kahlig and Tim Dezelski - able to shoot from anywhere but comfortable pounding smaller defenders down low.
Tech guard Troy Hecht will draw the assignment initially, but Luke has shown a tendency to try some funky things defensively if a traditional approach is not working.
"He is going to be a handful because he can shoot the three very well and he can post up," Luke said. "They have gone high low on us the past few years and it has had some good results.
"We have to mix it up and try and knock off his rhythm," Luke added.
The question of zone defense remains up in the air.
The Huskies used some 2-3 zone to good effect against Wayne State, holding the Warriors to 50 points in a grind-it-out win.
Tech played straight man-to-man in the loss to Saginaw though.
As Northwood makes seven threes per game at a 37 percent clip, zone defense may not be ideal against the Timberwolves even if it helps slow down Wilcox.
"It would be easy to look back and say we should have zoned (Saginaw) a couple times," Luke said. "But we are of the thought process that to be one of the teams on the top we have to play good, solid man."
The weekend doesn't get any easier after Northwood, with Lake State and the North's highest scoring offense (81.3 points per game) in town Saturday.
Again, Luke looks at the matchup as a midterm, giving the Huskies an idea of where they stand after a tough loss at Saginaw.
"If you take care of business at home that gives you another chance," Luke said.