It’s too early to tell if the Washington Huskies will be significantly better than last season.

But the Huskies are showing noticeable signs of improvement coming off a 5-21 season in which they finished second-to-last in the Pac-12 at 4-16.

On opening night Tuesday, Washington will face another team that is searching for a bounce-back when it hosts Northern Illinois.

NIU, which went 3-16 last season, finished last in the Mid-American Conference at 2-12 a year after tying for first in the conference’s West Division before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Washington has seven new players on its roster, including Terrell Brown Jr. (7.3 points last season), a 6-foot-3 guard from Seattle who transferred in from Arizona, and 6-7 forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (7.7 points), who transferred in from West Virginia.

The Huskies played solid defense and rebounded well in an 83-50 exhibition victory over Division II program Central Washington.

Returning starter Nate Roberts finished with 12 rebounds and Matthews grabbed six and blocked two shots while Brown totaled a game-high 17 points and three rebounds.

“We’ve got a good basketball team that’s in the early stages of development,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins told reporters after the win. “We’re playing in a tough league, and we’ve got some great nonconference games. We’ve got to focus on getting better every day, and we should have a chance.”

Northern Illinois is starting over with new coach Rashon Burno, who spent the past five seasons as an associate head coach at Arizona State. Burno replaces Mark Montgomery, who was fired midway through last season after a 1-7 start.

Like Washington, NIU showed signs of improvement from a year ago in a convincing 80-57 exhibition win over St. Francis (Ill.) last week. Guards Kaleb Thornton (15 points), Keshawn Williams (14) and Trendon Hankerson (10) each scored in double figures.

“In the second half, we played more our style of basketball, the ball went in a little bit more, played with a little bit more aggression, and we executed a lot better in the second half than we did in the first and were able to wear them down,” Burno said.

–Field Level Media