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


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Brooks Barnhizer on the court. The freshman guard scored 10 points in Thursday’s exhibition game.

Gabriela Carroll, Senior Staffer

Men’s Basketball

For the past two seasons, Northwestern has put a lot of responsibility on its young players.

In the early days of what coach Chris Collins regards as a rebuild in the 2019-20 season, three freshmen saw significant time for the Wildcats: guard Boo Buie, forward Robbie Beran and center Ryan Young. 

With NU’s young core growing up and gaining experience, the expectations on last year’s freshmen, guard Ty Berry and center Matt Nicholson, lessened. Berry averaged just 14.5 minutes per game, and Nicholson played in just nine games, averaging under three minutes of playing time. 

This year, Collins brings in three new freshmen: guards Casey Simmons, Julian Roper II and Brooks Barnhizer. Each brings something different to the table.

“Casey and Julian give you athletes on the wing that can slash, defend,” Collins said. “They’re two way guys, they give us some ability to force turnovers and get out in the open court. Brooks gives you that heady IQ guy. He’s 6 feet 6 inches (tall), he’s got a real strong build and he can really score.”

In Thursday’s exhibition game, Barnhizer scored 10 points in 11 minutes of game action, tied for the fourth-highest total on the team, and by far the highest point-per-minute total. Barnhizer hit all five from the free throw line, went 1-for-2 from behind the arc and had three steals. 

Roper scored just five points, but played 21 minutes — the highest of all the first years. Simmons started the game, and while he didn’t score any points, he showed the physicality that assistant coach Bryant McIntosh said the coaching staff are so excited about. 

Simmons, Roper and Barnhizer came to campus this summer, joining a veteran roster that has played together for a long time. Roper said the time over the summer helped the group bond and helped the freshmen build chemistry.

Newly minted captains senior guard Ryan Greer and senior forward Pete Nance provided  support as the freshmen adjusted to a college campus, according to Simmons. 

“Whether it’s on the court (if) we mess up, they help us, take us aside, tell us what we did and explain what Coach says, because during practice we’re running some drills I’ve never heard before,” Simmons said.

The Cats’ new freshmen are looking for ways to impact the team, no matter how much playing time they get. 

“It’s different coming out of high school, always having the ball,” Roper said. “We’re learning how to play off the older guys, and learning what they do and learning from their mistakes. And then learning how we get in, how to play off of them, what they like to do, or how to get to our spots and get shots out of what they like to do.”

Last year, the Cats played nine players consistently in their rotation, and seven return this year. Collins wouldn’t divulge how deep he expects the team’s rotation to be this year, but he did say the 2021-22 NU roster is the deepest team he’s had in a while. 

Barnhizer said the freshmen are all looking to be “energy guys.” He added they are hoping to be “solid” in the defensive end and be players Collins can rely on to get stops. 

“You’re there to fill in the voids, wherever we need, and just do whatever the coaches ask us,” Barnhizer said. “That’s all we can expect as freshmen, so we’ve got to go maximize it.”

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Twitter: @gablcarroll

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