Basketball Preview: 22 reasons to get excited for Northwestern basketball in 2022-23


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Northwestern women’s basketball players leap off the bench. The Wildcats look to return to the NCAA Tournament this season.

Want a reason to make it out to Welsh-Ryan Arena this season for men’s and women’s basketball? Look no further: The Daily compiled 22 reasons to get excited for Northwestern basketball’s 2022-23 season. 

1. Giveaways galore 

Northwestern fans may not camp out in tents for weeks for a ticket to basketball games like at Duke or win recognition for obnoxious fan behavior like at Maryland. But those who play their part to fill the stands are often rewarded with cool merch — or perhaps a slice of pizza. From sleek thermals to cozy sweats emblazoned with Wildcat pride, fans cheering on the team rarely leave empty-handed. The morning after a basketball game, students wear the evidence of their sportsmanship, leaving FOMO in their wake whether NU has won or lost. – Ilana Arougheti

2. Bryant McIntosh returns 

Having spent the past three seasons as the Cats’ assistant director of basketball operations, program legend Bryant McIntosh is finally back on the court –– this time, as an assistant coach. At 27, McIntosh is one of the nation’s youngest collegiate coaches and is actually much closer in age to players than to his fellow coaches. Let’s see if the program’s all-time assistant leader can draw up plays to lead NU back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, when McIntosh was team co-captain. Lucas Kim

3. Women’s basketball super seniors Sydney Wood and Courtney Shaw 

Graduate students Sydney Wood and Courtney Shaw are back in the purple and white for one more year. Wood, who is coming off an injury that ended her 2021-22 season, will look to return to her junior year form, in which she was a Big Ten All-Defense selection averaging 2.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Meanwhile, Shaw, the Cats’ leading rebounder last season, will likely increase offensive production this year. – Alex Cervantes

4. Michael Schill’s Oregon ties

Women’s basketball will face Oregon in its first road game in November. The Ducks have long been a powerhouse, riding a streak of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances — even playing in the Final Four in 2019. For University President Michael Schill, who formerly served as Oregon’s president, this matchup has a special meaning. Schill told The Daily earlier this month that he is a “big women’s basketball fan” and can’t wait to watch NU. He said friends of his are hoping he’ll return to Eugene wearing purple. – Charlotte Varnes

5. Battle of basement teams at the Gavitt Tipoff Games 

The Cats’ matchup at the Gavitt Tipoff Games will be perfect for all the college basketball sickos out there. NU, which finished among the bottom five teams in the Big Ten last year, will meet Georgetown, which has not won a Big East matchup since 2021. The matchup will also be a fun crossover moment for Georgetown assistant coach Pat Baldwin Sr., who played for the Cats and served as an assistant coach in Evanston from 2013-17. This game will surely leave fans saying, “Yes … Ha Ha Ha … Yes!”  – Charlotte Varnes

6. Visiting stars at Welsh-Ryan Arena

Plenty of Big Ten superstars will visit Welsh-Ryan Arena this season. The marquee name on the men’s side is Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, along with fellow NBA-caliber big men Hunter Dickinson of Michigan and Purdue’s Zach Edey. 

While all-world Iowa guard Caitlin Clark won’t return to Welsh-Ryan this year, the women’s team will face potential All-American guards in Indiana’s Grace Berger, Maryland’s Diamond Miller and Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon. – Russell Leung

7. Free Chick-fil-A for missed free throws

As NU looks to shake up the opposition during free throws, audience participation is a must. So at Welsh-Ryan, fans sing for their supper. As in the 2019-20 men’s basketball season, when the opposing team missed free throws, Cats fans can look forward to vouchers for a free Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich.

Few things top the euphoria of watching an opponent’s ball kiss air at the height of a crucial game. However, the greasy, sizzling comfort of Chick-fil-A is pretty far up there, especially when it’s free. And with the nearest franchise just three miles from South Campus, it’s game on. – Ilana Arougheti

8. The battle(s) for Lakeshore Drive 

With a packed Big Ten conference schedule in the latter half of the season, local matchups will provide an excellent preview for what’s to come. Matchups against UIC, DePaul and Chicago State will make the upcoming seasons even more exciting than past years. While NU’s matchup against DePaul was canceled last season due to COVID-19 precautions, Cats basketball fans will not be disappointed again. The men’s and women’s teams will be hosting both DePaul and UIC for the first time in several years, creating opportunities to instill new rivalries in the Chicago area. – Aayushya Agarwal

9. Men’s basketball heads to Cancun 

NU will head south of the border for its early season tournament this year. The Cats will play host to Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 18 at Welsh-Ryan Arena before heading to Cancun, Mexico a few days later. Collins and crew are in the Cancun Challenge Riviera Division with a bout against Liberty awaiting on Nov. 22. The Flames are led by guard Darius McGhee, who was second in the nation in scoring last season (24.6 ppg). 

Depending on the result against Liberty, NU will face either No. 15 Auburn or Bradley. Needless to say, the Cats getting a crack at the Tigers provides a phenomenal opportunity to boost this team’s non-conference resume. – Alex Cervantes

10. Seeing men’s basketball’s newcomers in action 

Five players exited Evanston in the offseason and Collins replaced them with a quartet of freshmen and one graduate student. Tydus Verhoeven, the 6-foot-9 transfer from University of Texas at El Paso, should likely get minutes right away on the frontcourt. Forward Luke Hunger is an exciting prospect who is projected to play the most time of the four-player freshmen class, slotting in as a stretch four while also offering some depth at center. Forward Nick Martinelli might see some minutes but finds himself in a logjam at the wing position. Guard Blake Smith and forward Gus Hurlburt will likely not see much action in their first year in Evanston. – Alex Cervantes

11. Weak Big Ten leaves room for potential upsets at Welsh-Ryan 

Fourteen of the 17 All-Big Ten selections from last season are gone. The individual firepower, highlighted by three top 10 picks of the 2022 NBA Draft, has exited the conference, leaving in its wake a fair number of players who have yet to star on their respective teams. Only three Big Ten squads — Indiana, Michigan and Illinois — are ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll. Roster turnover, including at NU, has ravaged the conference. For the Cats, this essentially means every team is beatable. Collins said it himself, NU was close to pulling off a couple upsets last season. In a down year for the conference, the Cats might be able to string together an upset or two. – Alex Cervantes

12. Jillian Brown is poised for a breakout

Since starting her athletic career at NU, sophomore guard Jillian Brown cemented her spot as a key shooting asset and versatile defensive player. Brown’s contributions to the Cats’ playmaking ability only grew through the last season, and with the absence of Veronica Burton, Brown’s two-way versatility is not only necessary, but sets the sophomore up for a record season. With her rebound and assist numbers, Brown’s breakout should make her a top scorer for NU. – Sam Lebeck

13. New faces on the women’s coaching staff 

Former associate head coach Kate Popovec’s departure for Bradley in April led to an off-season shake-up on the women’s basketball coaching staff. Now, long-time assistant coach Tangela Smith moves into the associate head coach role, joined by new assistant coaches Brittany Johnson and Maggie Lyon on the sideline. The Daily caught up with Lyon and Johnson about their new roles with the Cats. – Charlotte Varnes

14. A totally new frontcourt for the men’s team

If you’ve followed NU for years and suddenly don’t recognize its post players, it’s not just you. The transfers of Pete Nance and Ryan Young and the graduation of Elyjah Williams will force new faces to step up alongside senior forward Robbie Beran. Junior Matthew Nicholson, the 7-foot center, should play a significant role, while freshman forwards Luke Hunger, Gus Hurlburt and Nick Martinelli will also battle for meaningful minutes. UTEP graduate transfer Tydus Verhoeven rounds out the revamped frontcourt. Russell Leung

15. Deep women’s basketball sophomore class to increase production 

Women’s basketball boasts a deep sophomore class that looks to contribute in big ways this season. The group of Brown, Caileigh Walsh, Hailey Weaver, Melannie Daley and Mercy Ademusayo are back for round two with the Cats after a successful first year at NU. Brown and Walsh were the Cats’ third and fourth top point scorers for the 2020-21 season, respectively. Daley came in at third for steals. With the loss of top point scorer Burton, this class will help fill that gap for NU. – Kate Walter

16. Fun non-conference women’s basketball home games 

Although the Cats’ main focus will be its perennially-daunting Big Ten schedule, don’t forget about its exciting slate of non-conference home games. The big draw is the Nov. 16 showdown against preseason No. 9 Notre Dame, one of the sport’s all-time great programs, and star point guard Olivia Miles. The tilt will provide early insight on how far NU can go this season. Other standout opponents include Penn, Air Force and Valparaiso. – Russell Leung

17. Collins faces former teammate Jeff Capel

It’s not often that former teammates and longtime friends face off as coaches. But on Nov. 28, Collins’ Cats will play Jeff Capel’s Pittsburgh for the third time in four years. Last time the teams played each other, Pitt narrowly won in a 71-70 nailbiter. This time, Collins will hope to best his former backcourt mate at Duke for three years. In Collins’ senior season and Capel’s junior season, the duo led the Blue Devils in scoring, each averaging 16 points per game. The two even overlapped as Duke assistant coaches from 2011-13. Lucas Kim 

18. Boo Buie leading the charge 

With key contributors from last year’s team departing the program, it will be even more pivotal for 2021-22 leaders’ to lead the charge this season. One of these players is senior guard Boo Buie, who played in all 31 of NU’s games last season and averaged 14.1 points, a career best. The Albany, New York native is one of only four seniors on the current roster, making his veteran experience valuable for a young and inexperienced Cats team. For a successful 2022-23 season, NU will need Buie to continue performing at a high level both on and off the court. – Aayushya Agarwal

19. Chase Audige set to return to form

After missing seven games in the 2021-22 season with an injury, redshirt senior guard Chase Audige was a key contributor upon his return. With many old faces leaving the roster, Audige will have an even greater pivotal role in this upcoming season than in previous years. The Coram, New York native averaged 9.8 points and a Big-Ten second-ranked 1.8 steals per game. With more opportunities and a full season of games ahead, there is no limit for Audige’s potential to reach a new level. – Aayushya Agarwal

20. Men’s basketball holds Big Ten Tournament in Chicago 

The Big Ten men’s basketball tournament will be held March 8-12  in Chicago at the United Center for the 11th time. The annual tournament has taken place at the end of the regular season since 1998. The Big Ten Tournament champions receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. While the Cats have yet to make an appearance in the championship of the Big Ten tournament, NU is poised for a potential deep run in the conference tournament. – Sam Lebeck

21. Celebrity and alumni visitors at Welsh-Ryan Arena

When men’s basketball played Wisconsin last January, my roommate pointed out former NBA journeyman Evan Turner sitting courtside. A student next to us insisted that Turner would never willingly watch a Cats basketball game, until a photo on Turner’s Instagram story proved him wrong. Visits to Welsh-Ryan bring occasional celebrity and alumni sightings. 

Cleveland Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II and women’s hoops legend Lindsay Pulliam have also made returns. “Seinfeld” and “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus has graced the arena’s seats. The return of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Burton? A hoops homecoming for former University President Morton Schapiro? We’ll find out what this season holds for Welsh-Ryan’s courtside seats. – Saul Pink

22. Will NU be dancing in March? 

To dream or not to dream, that is the question. Both men’s and women’s basketball will have uphill climbs if March Madness hopes are going to be realized. Replacing a player of Burton’s caliber is a tall task for any program, but two early season tests against No. 20 Oregon and No. 9 Notre Dame offer potential resume boosters in non-conference, while potential victories against ranked opponents like Indiana, Nebraska and more in Big Ten play can help the women’s squad make a tournament push. 

The men’s team may not face a top-25 opponent until January, so posting a near perfect non-conference record and rattling off a few Big Ten upsets is paramount. Will the Cats be dancing in March? Who knows. But isn’t the real journey the friends we make along the way? – Alex Cervantes