Men’s Basketball: Reeling Wildcats looking for upset victory


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Vic Law goes up for a layup. The junior forward may be tasked with guarding the Big Ten’s leading scorer against Ohio State on Wednesday.

Joseph Wilkinson, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Northwestern is looking for answers.

The Wildcats were supposed to be good. They opened the season ranked No. 19 in the country. They returned their five leading scorers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, which won 24 games, the most in program history.

But NU has struggled mightily thus far and lost three games by 20 or more points. The Cats are 2-4 in the Big Ten and sit in 11th place. Against Indiana on Sunday, their leading scorers had 9 points each.
But coach Chris Collins hasn’t given up hope yet.

“I love these guys,” Collins said. “They’ve been so good for us, and they’ve done so much for our program as we’ve built. We’ve got to figure out a way here in these last 12 league games to find some consistent play and put ourselves in a position to win basketball games again.”

Wednesday, the Cats will take on Ohio State in Allstate Arena. Before the season, many would have expected that NU (11-8, 2-4 Big Ten) would represent the ranked team in the matchup. But instead, it’s the No. 22 Buckeyes (15-4, 6-0) with a number beside their name. The visitors roll in having won 10 of their past 11 games, including an 80-64 beatdown of No. 9 Michigan State two weeks ago.

Breakout star Keita Bates-Diop has led the Buckeyes’ surprising season. The junior redshirted last season when he missed the last 18 games with a stress fracture in his leg.

In 2017-18, however, Bates-Diop has made a case for himself as Big Ten Player of the Year, leading the conference with 20.3 points per game and adding 8.8 rebounds per game too, good for third in the Big Ten.

Bates-Diop added to his game while sitting out with the injury. Always a capable inside scorer, he’s now a bona fide threat from beyond the arc, shooting 41 percent from 3-point range this season after shooting only 32 percent from deep two years ago.

“It’s probably unrealistic to expect this type of offensive efficiency to continue for him, even as great of a player as he is,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann told reporters Tuesday. “He’s gonna get everybody’s best shot given what he’s done up to this point, whether that’s going to come with physical play or teams scheming against him.”

For the Cats, rangy junior forward Vic Law will likely draw the individual assignment on Bates-Diop whenever NU plays its man-to-man defense.

That defense, however, has been more of an alternate strategy for the Cats recently, as they’ve usually gone to a hybrid 2-3/3-2 zone in large parts of each of the past two games.

“It gives us an opportunity, I thought, with our length,” Collins said. “You’ve got to mix your coverages. … It’s been a good defense for us. Our guys believe in it. It allows us to kind of get on the boards and maximize the potential of some of the lineups we’re playing.”

Ohio State averages over 6 points per game more than NU and allows the same amount of points per game on the defensive end. So, if the Cats hope to pull the upset and shut down possibly the best player in the conference, they’ll need to step up on both ends of the court.

Twitter: @joe_f_wilkinson