Men’s Basketball: 2021-22 Wildcat basketball entrance survey


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior forward Pete Nance squares up for a jumper in Northwestern’s exhibition against Lindenwood. Nance’s junior-year resurgence helped the Cats double their conference win total last year.

Men’s Basketball

Northwestern’s 2020-21 men’s basketball season saw the team ranked as high as 19th in the nation, but the season ended with a thud in the Big Ten Tournament. Eight months later, there are changes aplenty — sharpshooter Miller Kopp is out, while three exciting freshmen are in — and the Wildcats are preparing for what looks to be a pivotal winter for coach Chris Collins. Today, The Daily’s reporters give their thoughts on what to look for from NU this season.

  1. NU finished 6-13 in Big Ten play and 12th out of 14 teams in the conference for the 2020-21 season before bowing out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. What would constitute a successful winter for the Cats, and should there be an ultimatum for Chris Collins?

Patrick Andres: Chris Collins has emphasized NU’s youth ad nauseam for two seasons. Now, it’s time to see some results: the Cats should aim for a top-10 finish in the conference. It’s doable. Wisconsin lost a lot of talent, Minnesota and Penn State are breaking in new coaches and Nebraska (despite recruiting well this offseason) was awful in 2021. NU’s current freshman class was in eighth grade during the 2017 NCAA Tournament run. If Collins’ veteran squad can’t take advantage of all this turnover and a pretty light nonconference schedule, it’s time for some hard conversations.

Gabriela Carroll: This roster is old now. It’s time for Collins’ rebuild to lead to significant progress. This team has a lot of solid players with a lot of Big Ten experience. It shouldn’t be playing in the 11-14 or 12-13 matchups on Big Ten Tournament weekend. Winning 10 conference games — four more than the six it won last year — would be a solid sign of improvement and could put it in the mix for the NCAA Tournament if some things fall its way.

John Riker: I could see Collins returning for another season if this one doesn’t pan out — the athletic department is in transition, and his recruiting has been strong as of late. But forward Pete Nance is a senior, and his eventual departure will close out the Cats’ first post-March Madness recruiting cycle. It’s been one characterized by double-digit losing streaks and late-game fumbles. While six conference wins was technically double the previous season’s tally, NU’s standard should be higher. A conference tourney win and a .500 record in conference play should be the standard in Evanston this winter. 

  1. Which Wildcat player’s progression will be most crucial to NU making major strides and factoring into the Big Ten postseason picture?

Andres: It’s hard to believe guard Boo Buie is a junior, isn’t it? His comically consistent numbers year after year (10.3 points per game in both 2020 and 2021, 2.1 rebounds per game in 2020 and 2.3 last season, a 37.6 and 36.9 field-goal percentage) have hidden some streaky tendencies. That streakiness peaked in a 2-for-29 shooting slump across four games from Dec. 29 to Jan. 13 of last season; NU lost all four games to kickstart its 13-game losing streak. Buie is this team’s bellwether, and if he raises his game in Year Three, so too will the Wildcats.

Carroll: Junior guard Chase Audige showed flashes of absolute brilliance last year in his first season with the Cats. Last year against Indiana on Dec. 23, Audige scored 17 points in the second half to single-handedly win them the game. He was capable of being the best player on the floor, but on other nights he got careless and in foul trouble. He’s not a consistent scorer — he’ll get you 15 points one night and then four the next. NU has a lot of solid players, but Audige is one of only a few who can take over a game. If he can become that player night in and night out, the Cats are going to be scarier than people think.

Riker: A key theme with NU this year is the transition from being one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten to one of the most experienced, and Chris Collins is banking that the wealth of game experience will translate to on-court results. Junior center Ryan Young might be the Cats’ best example of this trend. Young was thrown into the fire against NBA-caliber talents like Iowa’s Luka Garza, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Maryland’s Jalen Smith in his first year and held his own, but Young has yet to be a staple of the starting lineup entering Year Three. Now with Young in his third year of playing for the team, it’s time for him to emerge as the force NU needs down low.

  1. Which game should Northwestern fans circle on their calendars for this season?

Andres: Dec. 18 will be the wrist on which Chicagoland college basketball fans take their collective pulse. Both DePaul and NU have spent recent years living in Loyola-Chicago’s shadow, but former coach Porter Moser has left for Oklahoma. The Blue Demons and Wildcats’ meeting a week before Christmas at Welsh-Ryan Arena will act as a nice recruiting coup for the winning coach and a bitter pill for the losing coach. The two teams last played on Dec. 21, 2019, in Chicago, when DePaul shook off 25 Boo Buie points to score a hard-fought 83-78 victory. 

Carroll: The Big Ten opener against No. 21 Maryland. NU is playing a very light non-conference schedule this year, with its most formidable opponents being Wake Forest and whichever one of Georgia or Virginia it’ll face in the Legends Classic. Maryland’s starting the year ranked and is likely to finish in the top half of the conference. As we learned last year, you can’t base everything off of a one-game sample, but the match will be the first indicator of how much the team has improved and whether it can hang with the class of the Big Ten.

Riker: On Feb. 8, the Indiana Hoosiers will roll into Evanston in a rematch of last year’s epic 79-76 contest, in which the Cats blew leads late in the second half, in overtime and in double overtime. NU had a strange performance to say the least — backup junior guard Ryan Greer even fouled out  — and junior sharpshooter Miller Kopp’s 2-8 performance, including a 2-5 clip from 3-point land, was emblematic of a tumultuous season. Oh right, Kopp’s a Hoosier now. Kopp deserves an ovation from the home crowd for his efforts on a rebuilding Cats team, but NU will be motivated to change the script this time around. 

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Twitter: @john__riker

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Twitter: @pandres2001

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Twitter: @gablcarroll