Men’s Basketball: Northwestern leaning heavily on its starters so far in 2019


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

A bunch of Wildcats huddle before a play. Northwestern will look to set its rotation in the last few games before Big Ten play

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

If Miller Kopp or Pete Nance made a mistake last season, coach Chris Collins could easily take the freshmen forwards out of the game, and he’d replace them with one of the four upperclassmen at their position.

Collins doesn’t have that luxury anymore. The seventh-year coach relies on his starters as much as he has at any point in his tenure, playing them over 70 percent of the time this season.

After Northwestern took an early eight-point lead against Radford on Tuesday, he tried to buy Kopp, Nance and graduate guard Pat Spencer a few minutes of rest. So Collins put in three bench players and said that decision led the Wildcats to lose their momentum in a 67-56 loss.

“We were in a pretty good spot, and then we went to our bench a little bit,” Collins said after the game. “When we came back to the main guys, we were out of rhythm, out of sorts.”

Heading into the Cats’ (1-2) game Friday at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Norfolk State (3-2), Collins will again rely on his starters to dig the team out of its disappointing start to the season.

Since almost every player on NU’s roster hadn’t played much before this season, Collins stressed the team would rely on contributions from all 10 scholarship players on the roster. Just three games into the season, he’s already moving in another direction.

The scoring drought in the first half against the Highlanders was another instance where the bench players made a negative impact, and the role players who were expected to provide a spark haven’t delivered so far all season.

That’s the case for senior forward A.J. Turner. Even though he’s the team’s leading returning scorer, he hasn’t started a game all season and scored three points in 13 minutes against Radford. Even when he did play extended minutes down the stretch against Providence, Turner took only four shots the entire game.

That’s the case for sophomore guard Ryan Greer, who had the inside track to be the starting point guard but has played three minutes over the last two games. He didn’t play at all against Providence and hasn’t taken a shot all season.

And that’s the case for freshmen Boo Buie, Robbie Beran and Jared Jones, who are all averaging fewer than 14 minutes per game. The three rookies have made just 30 percent of their field goal attempts, but Collins said these three aren’t the only players who have shown their inexperience so far.

Especially in losses to Merrimack and Radford, Collins said almost the entire roster has struggled adjusting to their roles on the team.

“Outside of Gaines and Turner, you’re talking about a lot of guys who this is just brand new for,” Collins said. “You’re talking about a lot of guys that are really new to the college game. These are great learning experiences, even though sometimes there are really tough growing pains.”

Just three weeks ago in NU’s preseason exhibition game against Quincy, Collins utilized hockey-style subs to get all ten players ample time on the floor. But after having a difficult first half against the Highlanders, Collins barely turned to his bench unit following halftime.

Starting Friday against Norfolk State, the Cats have three more games to figure out its rotation before Big Ten play begins.

“College basketball season is really long, and sometimes it’s hard to realize that there’s a lot to work on and a lot of room to grow,” Kopp said. “With this team, we definitely have a lot of time to improve and grow and learn.”

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