Men’s Basketball: 2022-23 Wildcat entrance survey


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Coach Chris Collins throws his hands up in frustration during a game last season. Collins is in the ultimate prove-it year in 2022-23.

Remember that time Northwestern men’s basketball made the NCAA Tournament? Well, it’s been more than five years since then and the Wildcats have endured a quintet of consecutive losing seasons. Coach Chris Collins is in a prove-it year and will look to right the ship after an offseason exodus that saw Pete Nance and Ryan Young, among others, leave Evanston. The Daily’s reporters give their thoughts on what to anticipate from NU this season.

1. Veterans Pete Nance and Ryan Young have departed for opportunities at UNC and Duke. Who is most likely to step up in their place as leaders?

Alex Cervantes: Leading this team, it’s going to be Chase Audige, Boo Buie and Robbie Beran — coach Chris Collins has said it himself countless times this offseason. The three have started 172 games under Collins and will likely be the team’s three leading scorers in 2022-23. Stepping up as a leader in the frontcourt, in particular, it will probably be Tydus Verhoeven. The University of Texas at El Paso transfer is in his sixth year of collegiate basketball and I’d expect Collins to lean on him early and often. 

Lawrence Price: Like Alex said, the ring leaders will be Audige, Buie and Beran. Both Buie and Beran have started since their freshman year for the Cats, while Audige has done the same since he became eligible to play after transferring from William & Mary. The trio will have a lot of weight to carry after losing game-changers on the offensive end like Nance and Young, but with so much in-game experience, they’ve already played in many important situations. Outside of those three, NU will need multiple veteran players to step up, similarly to how Elyjah Williams, a graduate student from Fairleigh Dickinson, did last year. This time around, it will be Verhoeven, a sixth year forward transfer from UTEP, and third-year big man Matt Nicholson who will protect the paint.

John: I’m looking for senior guard Buie to be the guy in Evanston this season. Though it’s year four for Buie with the Cats, he’s had a starring role since his first season, when he averaged double digits in points and scored 26 in his first Big Ten home game. Consistency has been an issue, and the star potential that Buie flashed early on in his college career has yet to translate to All-Big Ten success. In the huddle and on the court, the Cats will go as far as Buie takes them.

2. What will it take for coach Chris Collins to keep his job?

Alex: When Athletic Director Derrick Gragg tasked Collins with “making necessary changes” to turn this program around, I’d imagine NU fans expect that means a winning record or he’s fired. In reality, if he ends up with somewhere in the realm of nine or 10 wins in Big Ten play, I think Collins keeps his job — granted, this is anticipating the Cats don’t fall apart in non-conference play. A run to the third day of the Big Ten Tournament could probably keep him in Evanston a little longer, too.

Lawrence: A winning season. Point blank, period. In a March statement, Gragg gave Collins the ultimatum of taking a step forward, or one out the door. Of course, that will be difficult, if not nearly impossible, due to the roster changes, and comparing last season’s results. However, even if Collins and his squad make progress, his time in Evanston will be over if he doesn’t secure a winning season, winning record in the Big Ten, or a run in the Big Ten Tournament. His rebuilding plan of playing, and starting younger players would come to an end — a strategy that began with the recruiting classes of the past group including Nance, and this year’s senior group of Buie and Beran. With that said, it may be Collins’ time anyway after his last ‘plan for the future’ group leaves.

John: Finishing close to .500 in Big Ten play. That’s a pretty high bar for a roster well in the Big Ten’s back half, but the fuse is understandably short after half a decade of mediocre winters. Gragg cannot be content with the current state of NU men’s basketball, and the Cats’ lack of success in recruiting removes the momentum that likely helped Collins retain his position. Still, NU has been inching closer to respectability in the Big Ten in past seasons, and significant improvement makes this crucial decision even more difficult.

3. What is the most important storyline of the Cats’ 2022-23 campaign?

Alex: The consistency of Audige and Buie. At the risk of beating a dead horse, Collins has made it clear this team will go as far as the perimeter can take it. The pair combined for almost 24 points a game last season, but that number needs to increase this year. Audige and Buie are the catalysts for this team’s offense and getting buckets at a high, consistent and efficient level will determine this squad’s success or the lack thereof.

Lawrence: The next two leaders in points per game will be taking the reins — Audige and Buie — after Nance’s departure. With the latter averaging 14.1 last season, and the former 9.8, the dynamic duo will need to take major leaps to urge NU in the correct direction. Of course, other questions surround the front court and the development of the Cats’ supporting cast, but in reality, NU’s season will be determined by the pair’s efforts.

John: Rebuilding the frontcourt. The Big Ten has long been the domain of powerful post players, and there is no question that the Cats’ positions of weakness are the four and the five, which were usually filled capably by Nance and Young. Beran could certainly factor down low, but players like Nicholson and Verhoeven will need smooth transitions into major minutes to help NU pick up where it left off last season. For the Cats to improve and translate that improvement into more wins and postseason contention, they’ll need a true star to emerge.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

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