Men’s Basketball Notebook: Collins, NU players talk backcourt experience, new frontcourt and more at Big Ten Media Day


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Senior guard Boo Buie dribbles the ball in an exhibition game last fall. Coach Chris Collins will be leaning on his experienced backcourt, including Buie, for the 2022-23 campaign.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

Coach Chris Collins and three Northwestern men’s basketball players — senior guard Chase Audige, senior guard Boo Buie and senior forward Robbie Beran — made the trek north to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Big Ten Media Day on Tuesday. 

The Wildcats enter the new campaign on the heels of a 2021-22 season that failed to meet expectations. In its wake, significant contributors departed Evanston in the offseason. 

Nevertheless, Collins is as excited as ever for a fresh slate of NU hoops.

“We have five of our top seven scorers back from last year, a number of veteran players,” Collins said. “We feel like we’re gonna have a chance to be very competitive this year.”

Here are three takeaways from the Cats’ appearance in Minnesota.

All eyes on experienced perimeter

Collins made it clear that NU will “go as far as the perimeter goes.”

That leaves the Cats’ success up to Buie, Audige and Beran. NU’s lead trio combined for just over 30 points per game last season and will be called on for much more this season. For the Cats to be successful, all three will likely have to be double-digit scorers, a mark only Buie hit last year.

Regardless, optimism abounds, and there is hope that the trio can meet Collins’ lofty bar. 

Audige highlighted junior guard Ty Berry and sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer as offseason standouts. Their growth, along with a leap from sophomore guard Julian Roper II, gives Collins a solid six-man rotation on the perimeter. In the end, though, Audige said it might be Beran’s play that’s the most important.

“When Robbie’s good, we’re good,” Audige said. “His energy, his defense, when he’s hitting shots, that’s something that can really take us over the edge as a team.”

Taking stock of the frontcourt

Collins said it himself: you can’t replace the production of Pete Nance and Ryan Young, who transferred to North Carolina and Duke, respectively. NU will have to take a collection of parts and try to get close to where it was with Nance and Young’s leadership.

When Nance and Young announced their transfers, the Cats lost 32.3 percent of their scoring and 30.1 percent of their rebounding from the 2021-22 season. That void will have to be filled by NU’s trio of big men in graduate student Tydus Verhoeven, junior Matt Nicholson and freshman Luke Hunger.

All three are almost entirely inexperienced to Big Ten play — Nicholson has seen the court in just 14 conference games in two years — but each offers up something different for Collins and the Cats. 

Nicholson is your prototypical Big Ten center, standing 7-feet and weighing in at 255 pounds, and should play more this season, per Collins. Audige expressed optimism towards Nicholson’s growth this summer.

“If I can give an MVP award, it would be to Matt Nicholson,” Audige said. “Just his energy, how much he’s gotten better.”

Verhoeven is experienced at the D-1 level and is a strong defender and “very mobile big guy,” Collins said. Hunger, the youngest of the bunch, is more of a modern day big man. He can stretch the floor and very well might be the most skilled of the trio, too.

All in all, Collins and company aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re just hoping these three can compliment the backcourt.

Buie and Audige talk shot selection

The pair of returning Cats is going to be the focal point of the Cats’ offense once again in 2022-23. With that, NU fans can expect the ball to be in their hands even more this season, which also raises concerns of shot selection.

Buie and Audige are both looking to improve on this.

“As long as someone’s making the shot, that means we’re all scoring,” Buie said. “That’s been the real focus this year, just getting the best shot every possession.”

Last season, Buie and Audige finished first and third in field goal attempts, respectively. Buie shot 39.7 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from distance. Audige, although hampered by an early season injury, was no better, shooting 33.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range.

Both players can get hot in a hurry and torch opposing teams, but they can just as quickly fall victim to contested jumpers and deep pull-up three-pointers. When it goes in, it’s a great shot; when it doesn’t, it’s an even more glaring mistake.

“I’ve really tried to make an emphasis on moving the ball,” Audige said. “I’ve learned over the years it’s not about my shot, it’s a team shot, it’s about making the right play.”

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