Men’s Basketball: Kopp, Nance look to make Wildcats conference contenders


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Pete Nance takes a layup. NU will look to Nance and fellow junior forward Miller Kopp to take the team to contention in the Big Ten.

John Riker, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Through the slog of an 8-23 season, coach Chris Collins looked beyond the standings to measure his team’s progress.

“Usually with young groups, the final thing you see is wins and losses,” Collins said after falling to Maryland on Jan. 22. “You see development, you see growth, but it’s really hard to win at this level. The last step is learning how to break through and win these conference games.”

Northwestern enters the 2020-21 season hoping to hit that last step. The Wildcats finished the conference season strong with wins over Nebraska and a ranked Penn State team, then bowed out in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

For NU to make the leap to contender, Collins will have to rely on internal development after the Cats had a quiet offseason. Playmakers Pat Spencer and A.J. Turner graduated, leaving junior forwards Miller Kopp and Pete Nance as NU’s leaders. Kopp emerged as NU’s best shooter and a priority for opposing defenses, averaging a team-high 13.1 points per game, while Nance emerged as an efficient contributor off the bench.

Sophomores Boo Buie and Ryan Young figure to slot in at the 1 and 5 positions. Buie broke out with a stellar December — 16 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field — but he missed a chunk of the season due to a stress fracture and struggled afterward. Young held his ground as a freshman against the behemoths of opposing Big Ten frontcourts as the Cats’ leading rebounder and primary post threat. Transfer guard Chase Audige, sophomore forward Robbie Beran and senior guard Anthony Gaines will also be in the mix to start.

The Cats have declined steadily since their NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017. The 2020-21 season will be a crucial test to whether this core can compete in the uber-competitive Big Ten.

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