Basketball Preview: 22 reasons you should be hyped for Northwestern basketball


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman guard Brooks Barnhizer reacts after scoring in Northwestern’s exhibition game against Lindenwood. Both the men’s and women’s squads are looking to their incoming recruiting classes to make a major impact.

Daily Northwestern Staff

Need a reason to make it out to Welsh-Ryan Arena this season for men’s and women’s basketball? Today, The Daily’s reporters will give you 22 of them. Here’s why you should be excited for Northwestern basketball this winter, both on and off the court.

  1. Veronica Burton: America’s point guard

Senior guard Veronica Burton is the two-time reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, helping her team make a run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. During the offseason, Burton represented the red, white and blue, winning gold with the USA AmeriCup team in June. The Newton, Massachusetts, native comes from an NU family. Her mother was an All-American and Big Ten swimmer at NU, and her dad served as quarterback for the Wildcats. But the lineage doesn’t stop there. Her grandfather is an NU and NCAA football Hall of Famer, and three of her uncles played for NU football. Read page TK for more on Veronica Burton. — Skye Swann

  1. Men’s basketball looking to fantastic freshmen

Men’s basketball has three freshmen guards joining the fray: Brooks Barnhizer, Julian Roper II and Casey Simmons. With the veteran core the team has now, they might not get much playing time, but Roper told the Daily they’re all excited to be a source of energy for the roster and to learn from this tight-knit group. Read page TK for more on the freshmen. — Gaby Carroll

  1. Boo Buie and Talor Battle are joining forces

Junior guard Boo Buie grew up watching another Big Ten team in Penn State. He had good reason: His brother, Talor Battle, was the Nittany Lions’ star from 2007-11 and a three-time All-Big Ten selection. A decade later, the two brothers’ respective teams clashed in 2020 and 2021, with Buie as the Cats’ starting guard and Battle as a Penn State assistant (Talor took two of three contests against Boo, for the record). But this summer, Battle made the move from Happy Valley to Evanston to join Chris Collins’ staff and team up with his brother. Read page 7 for more on the Buie-Battle connection. John Riker

  1. The return of the women’s basketball student section

Welsh-Ryan Arena was packed on Feb. 29, 2020. An impressive student turnout showed up to see the women’s basketball squad face Illinois for the Big Ten title — so many that members of the men’s team had a hard time finding a seat in the lower bowl. The energy in the arena was electric. When the clock hit zero, and the scoreboard read 75-58 in NU’s favor, fans stormed the court and cheered with the team and coach Joe McKeown as purple-and-white streamers fell from the ceiling. Don’t miss out on these memorable moments — show up and support women’s basketball this season. Haley Fuller

  1. Wildcat women look to make next move

Just two seasons ago, NU was poised to be a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament until the pandemic forced the cancellation of the postseason. Last year, the Cats made a run into the round of 32 and almost upset No. 2 Louisville. Despite Lindsey Pulliam’s departure, core pieces return — including senior guard Veronica Burton and senior forward Courtney Shaw.  Coach Joe McKeown signed a contract extension through the 2024-25 season, and Kate Popovec was promoted to associate head coach in August. The pieces are there for NU to show that its 2020 season was not a miracle run. Instead, it was a continuation of the Cats’ ascent toward Big Ten supremacy. Read page 5 for more on what to expect from the Cats. Drew Schott

  1. Ty Berry has high hopes for sophomore season

Guard Ty Berry was the only freshman to see significant playing time for NU in 2021, and he made the most of it as a valuable depth guard capable of providing instant offense off the bench. In 22 games — none of which he started — he averaged 5.1 points, reaching double figures against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Chicago State, Michigan State and Nebraska. Berry, a Kansas native, was a highly touted recruit whose minutes should only increase in 2022. Forged in his first year by a historically strong Big Ten, he’ll play an integral role if the Cats find any lasting success this season. Read page 7 for more on Berry’s sophomore campaign. Patrick Andres

  1. Northwestern giveaways

Three winters ago, a young, impressionable freshman trudged through brutally cold temperatures on Jan. 22, 2019, for a chance at nabbing rare gothic gear at a men’s basketball game. After making the 30-minute trek from her dorm, she arrived at Ryan Field, only to find that it was already sold out. Devastated, she walked home sans sweatshirt. To this day, she wanders through the hallowed halls of campus yearning for a second chance at a gothic giveaway from NU Wildside. Rest assured, she’ll be in the stands cheering on the Cats in purple-and-white as she revels in the final basketball season of her undergraduate career. And hey, maybe one day she’ll finally get her hands on that sweatshirt. Isabelle Sarraf

  1. Buzzer beaters (both ways)

Shot clock turned off, game tied at 65-all, NU’s Nathan Taphorn inbounding the ball with 1.7 seconds remaining — Welsh-Ryan Arena held its breath as Taphorn heaved a cross-court throw over a Michigan player’s outstretched hands. Time slowed as Dererk Pardon elevated and snatched the Hail Mary pass, went up with a slight hesitation and banked in a layup as time expired. Rumor has it Ann Arbor, Michigan, can still hear Welsh-Ryan Arena’s eruption as the 2017 NU men’s team beat Michigan 67-65. We can forget about Sam Haiby’s buzzer-beater that carried Nebraska to a 65-63 upset win over the then-No. 15 NU women’s basketball team last season. Nicole Orejuela     

  1. Pete Nance looks to build off junior-year success

The transfers of Miller Kopp and Anthony Gaines leave forward Pete Nance, the only remaining senior who started regularly last season, as the de facto leader of the men’s team. And that’s a great thing for the Cats, because he is poised to once again elevate his game to new heights. Nance posted career highs last season in nearly every statistical category, averaging 11.1 points per game on .495/.364/.784 shooting splits. He also showcased his two-way potential by leading the team in rebounds and blocks. Look for Nance to increase his playmaking and scoring responsibilities as he battles the premier big men of the Big Ten. Russell Leung

  1. Celebrity sightings at Welsh-Ryan Arena

While basketball may not be a storied program in Evanston, its proximity to Chicago will sometimes provide opportunities for celebrity-sightings. During the 2019-20 season, the likes of former Bulls general manager Gar Forman and NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo graced the seats of Welsh-Ryan Arena. Who might we expect this year? Fresh off a run to the WNBA Championship, Chicago Sky star Candace Parker could make an appearance. Or maybe rookie Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields will be missing some Big Ten basketball and come up to campus. Whoever it is, it’s sure to be unexpected. Joshua Hoffman

  1. Chick-fil-A coupons for six missed free throws

A loud arena is essential to home basketball matchups, especially when it comes to forcing opponents to miss critical free throws. The last time students cheered on Wildcats basketball in Welsh-Ryan Arena was for the men’s takedown of then-No. 20 Penn State on March 7, 2020. And what incentivizes students to scream during other teams’ free throw attempts more than the prospect of free food? Nothing. The 2019-20 season brought the promise of coupons for free Chick-fil-A sandwiches for everyone in attendance if the opposing team missed six free throws throughout the game. So students, come out to Welsh-Ryan Arena, get loud and get that chicken. MaryKate Anderson

  1. Joe McKeown dancing and women’s basketball’s TikTok legacy

You may remember women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown’s celebratory dance circulating Twitter in March. Every win feels like a party, but the excitement behind the Cats cracking their way into the NCAA Tournament put a little extra pep in McKeown’s step — and the rest of the team’s, too. The squad finds a way to have immense amounts of fun both on the court and on the bench and, it seems, in the locker room as well. Sophomore forward Anna Morris shows the personalities (and dance moves) of the team’s phenom players fairly regularly on her TikTok account, @annamo0o0. Look forward to more killer dance moves from McKeown, Morris and company this season. MaryKate Anderson

  1. The memes

Even if you’re not well-versed in basketball, there’s still room to enjoy the sport through each season’s inevitable memes. By far, the most infamous meme is the “crying Northwestern kid” after a missed call led to the end of NU’s 2017 March Madness run. Other notable memes over the years include Chris Collins slapping the floor on all fours and Joe McKeown’s semi-coordinated happy dances. This season, keep your eyes peeled for meme-worthy moments and remember: you might just be NU’s next big basketball meme. Natalie Wu

  1. The Miller Kopp revenge game

Feb. 8, 8 p.m. Be there. Miller Kopp will return to Welsh-Ryan Arena in those baggy, candy-cane-striped warmup pants. Kopp transferred to Indiana last spring after three years at NU. The Hoosiers shot 32.4% from 3-point range last season, and Kopp’s 98 made 3-pointers in his past two seasons boost their offensive output. But the Cats have some shooters of their own, including Boo Buie, Ty Berry and Chase Audige, with the trio all posting better percentages from deep than Kopp did last season. The former Wildcat told ESPN he’ll be “a different player” for Indiana, someone who is “more swagged up overall.” If those words aren’t bulletin-board material for Chris Collins and the team, I don’t know what is. Alex Cervantes

  1. Caitlin Clark among visiting superstars in Welsh-Ryan Arena

Fans heading to Welsh-Ryan Arena will have plenty of opportunities to see the Cats show off against some of the country’s biggest stars. Iowa guard phenomenon Caitlin Clark, who led the country in scoring last season, will headline Welsh-Ryan Arena Jan. 27 when the Cats take on the Hawkeyes. Clark dropped 20-plus points in all but three games last season, so expect a show. Men’s basketball will also compete against the country’s best, facing formidable foes like Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who was a consensus 2020-21 second-team All-American, in Evanston on Jan. 29, and Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who put up an impressive 26 points in an NCAA Tournament game last season, when the Boilermakers visit Feb. 16. Charlotte Varnes

  1. Former Cats turned Ramblers gearing for November return

Last time Abi Scheid was in action in Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Cats scored a share of the Big Ten title in a blowout win against in-state rival Illinois, and Scheid was a star forward and the nation’s second-leading 3-point shooter. Scheid will return to her old stomping grounds Nov. 17, albeit on the opposing sidelines as the director of women’s basketball operations for NU’s North Side neighbor Loyola-Chicago. The reunion will be a pivotal early-season contest, and the Cats have to pray Scheid will stay on the sidelines (and off the 3-point line). John Riker

  1. DJ Commando and his favorite song, Roddy Ricch’s “The Box”

Fans know the sounds of football season well: the fight song, the “time to move the chains” chant, the smacking of football pads against each other. But basketball season also has its own iconic score — the song “The Box” by Roddy Ricch, played dutifully (and often) by DJ Commando in the student section. I’ve never heard this song played anywhere else, and I’ve never attended an NU basketball game without “The Box” getting airtime. I’m not complaining, either — it’s a hype song! Just thinking of this beat conjures memories of Robbie Beran warmup layups and pregame stretches. John Riker

  1. The tireless energy of Chase Audige

From rim grazers, to nothing-but-net 3s and a few chest pounders after an and-one bucket, it’s safe to say that junior guard Chase Audige brings the energy to the crowd and his teammates. But let’s face it: every team needs a hype man, especially someone like the New York native who gets it done on both sides of the ball. Audige led the Cats in both points per game (12.6) and steals (37) last year, landing him on college basketball analyst Andy Katz’s preseason top-20 players in the Big Ten at No. 18. When you have a guy who can change the course of the game on both sides of the floor while also bringing an abundance of energy, it makes him that much more crucial to NU’s success. Lawrence Price

  1. The Many Wildcats of Northwestern test their mettle in the Legends Classic

What is Thanksgiving if not a time to stuff your face with food while watching your favorite college basketball team play in a tropical tournament? NU will travel to scenic Newark, New Jersey for the Legends Classic, where the Cats will play Providence before turning their attention to either Georgia or Virginia. If the destination seems familiar, it’s where the Cats announced themselves as potential NCAA Tournament fare in November 2016: NU shelled then-No. 22 Texas in the semifinals before falling to Notre Dame 70-66 in the final at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Patrick Andres

  1. Men’s basketball’s annual 10-game losing streak

The streak ends this year. Sure, Northwestern has had three consecutive seasons featuring a 10-game losing streak. I’m here to tell you: Not only will that annual misery end this season, but Collins and the Cats will also lock in a winning record. The Big Ten is as deep and loaded as ever, but the Cats return six of their top seven scorers from 2020-21, which is a reason for optimism. The group of players will remember last season’s woes, and hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself for a third time. There are stretches in January and February 2022 when NU should face multiple top-25 opponents in consecutive matchups, so it goes without saying that that’s the test. But this year, the Cats are up to the challenge. I think. Alex Cervantes

  1. Women’s basketball’s youth movement

In what ESPN believes to be head coach Joe McKeown’s deepest recruiting class yet, NU women’s basketball continues to cash in on and off the court. They lost leader and bucket getter Lindsay Pulliam to the WNBA draft, but the Cats may be able to fill the void with its 2021 recruiting class, ranked 10th in the nation. The group is headlined by Hailey Weaver, the No. 35 player out of high school, followed by No. 50 guard Jillian Brown, No. 56 forward Caileigh Walsh and two other four-star prospects in forward Mercy Ademusayo and guard Melannie Daley. The only Big Ten team ranked higher than NU was Maryland at No. 9. With returning seniors like guard Veronica Burton and wing Sydney Wood leading the ship, prepare for an exciting campaign for the Cats. Lawrence Price

  1. March Madness!

Well, reaching the actual NCAA Tournament might be a bit of a stretch, but by virtue of the Big Ten Tournament’s March schedule, both NU teams will play meaningful basketball in the sport’s best month. A win in the Big Ten Tournament is a boost of confidence for the men’s team and indicates Collins’ progress after back-to-back eliminations to Minnesota. The women’s team is coming off a March Madness appearance and was slated to host games in the 2020 tournament, so this program is no stranger to postseason play. 

I’ll offer my prediction here — this will be a March to remember for NU basketball. John Riker

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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s three first-years look for ways to make an impact