Men’s Basketball: How Northwestern’s new defense and Romeo Langford match up

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Men’s Basketball: How Northwestern’s new defense and Romeo Langford match up

Ryan Taylor slams it home. He’ll be playing his first Big Ten game this weekend at Indiana.

Ryan Taylor slams it home. He’ll be playing his first Big Ten game this weekend at Indiana.

Daily File Photo by Katie Pach

Ryan Taylor slams it home. He’ll be playing his first Big Ten game this weekend at Indiana.

Daily File Photo by Katie Pach

Daily File Photo by Katie Pach

Ryan Taylor slams it home. He’ll be playing his first Big Ten game this weekend at Indiana.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

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Men’s Basketball


The last time Northwestern faced a player as talented as Indiana guard Romeo Langford, the Wildcats were on the receiving end of Trae Young’s menace and 30-footers.

NU entered Norman, Okla. on Dec. 22, 2017, and the eventual fifth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft stumped the Cats on his way to a 31-point and 12-assist performance and a 104-78 Sooners win.

It’s still uncertain if this year’s edition of NU’s team is superior to the one that went 15-17 last season. But seven games in, the Cats (6-1) are better equipped to handle Langford than they were Young.

“(I am) just going to guard him like normal,” senior forward Vic Law, who intends to match up against Langford on Saturday, said. “I’m athletic too. I hope he’s ready.”

It’ll be like making up for lost time for Law, who watched last season’s Sooners game injured on the sidelines. Guards Bryant McIntosh, Isiah Brown and Jordan Ash faced Young frequently in the Oklahoma game last season, and they each could not keep up with Young as he darted around screens to set up shots at the rim or as he faded behind the screener to pull-up for a deep three-point shot.

Young finished the game with three open pull-up threes in the pick-and-roll after neither the big man nor the guard tagged the shifty point guard, and he made three additional ones from deep after no one picked him up in transition.

While Langford isn’t the same pick-and-roll maestro as Young, his explosiveness off the dribble is better than any 2019 prospect who does not play in Durham, North Carolina. At 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Langford has the build of an archetypal bucket-getter and the creativity to keep defenses guessing.

He has excellent mechanics in catch-and-shoot situations, which set up a series of hard to predict moves off the dribble including a polished finger roll and step-back pull-up.

NU isn’t the same defensive team NBA scouts saw devastated last year by an elite NBA prospect. Against Georgia Tech on Wednesday, NU conceded just 20 first half points, and the Cats have an impressive 88.6 defensive rating on the season — the 35th best mark in the country. Opponents are shooting just 50 percent at the rim and 29.7 from beyond the arc, and they’re only getting out in transition on 21 percent of possessions, according to Hoop Math.

According to coach Chris Collins, this all is an effect of the bigger personnel he’s been playing together and the lack of any weak link for a player like Langford to pick apart off the dribble. This year, Law has usually started possessions on the opponents best player, but if the Cats have to switch primary defenders or put high ball-pressure on the ball-handler, it’ll be an athletic player like freshman forward Miller Kopp, junior forward A.J. Turner, graduate guard Ryan Taylor, sophomore guard Anthony Gaines or freshman forward Pete Nance executing it.

“I’ve said it all along, our length and our athleticism allows us to be pretty active defensively,” Collins said. “When you throw lineups out there that have Vic Law, A.J. Turner, (Anthony) Gaines and Nance, those are big guys. We don’t really play any small guys. When we’re in our spots, when we’re in our rotations we can be very difficult to score against.”

If last year’s team were facing Indiana, Langford would likely be trying to isolate himself against a smaller guard like Brown or McIntosh, which Young executed to near perfection. Collins said throughout the preseason that McIntosh’s playmaking would be sorely missed, but the advantage to having him out of the fray is that it gives NU’s defense a better on-ball options against elite creators like Langford.

And as a result, the team has been playing some of the best defense it ever has under Collins.

“This gives us a very good picture of what the Big Ten is like,” Law said. “We have new players who haven’t played in this league yet and now have to play Indiana at Indiana and then play Michigan… this is going to get them ready. I don’t think you can play any two games that’ll be better for us and test what we have than these two games.”

Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @2021_charlie

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