Men’s Basketball: ‘He’s really gonna be special’: How Brooks Barnhizer evolved into Northwestern’s Swiss Army knife


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

Sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer dribbles the ball. Barnhizer has become NU’s proverbial sixth starter, providing physicality and toughness on both ends of the floor.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

Long before Northwestern upset the No. 1 team in the country, long before an embattled senior class emphatically stamped its place in program history, long before that elusive second NCAA Tournament bid became less of a pipe dream and more of a reality, redshirt senior guard Chase Audige was sitting on a stage at Big Ten Media Days.

It was mid-October and Audige, alongside senior guard Boo Buie and coach Chris Collins, was fielding questions from Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine.

Fresh off a disappointing 15-16 season and 7-13 finish in Big Ten play, Audige and Buie were now, more than ever, the Wildcats’ centerpieces. They were set to lead a group with a host of unknown variables — among them a new frontcourt and a young bench. 

Still, the duo remained optimistic and confident in NU’s future success. So, when Revsine asked Audige who among his teammates had made the fabled “offseason leap,” the latter was quick to provide a response.

Sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer. 

“He’s had a great offseason,” Audige said. “He’s really taken a step with his confidence, his leadership and his impact. He’s really gonna be special.”


It was quite the declaration from one of the Cats’ captains. Barnhizer played just 82 minutes his freshman year, battling injuries and sitting outside Collins’ preferred rotation. He scored in just four of his 11 appearances for NU, shooting 26.7% from the floor and 18.2% from beyond the arc — though the sample size is small. 

To predict such a quick rise might’ve seemed hyperbolic, but Audige’s response embodied the assuredness of this Cats squad. They believed in one another long before anyone else did, and Barnhizer’s impending rise embodied a much larger message that the team’s future success would be no accident. 


For Barnhizer, his ascension began shortly after the 2021-22 season had concluded. He said he made a point to be “the hardest working guy” in the gym, looking to prove he could be a key part of the team in his second year in Evanston. 

Building off what he called a “turning point,” Barnhizer entered the summer looking to hoop as much as possible — not just in the confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena, but all over Chicago. 

Those pickup runs across the city were where it all began to click for the Indiana native, according to assistant coach Bryant McIntosh.

“You could see that he was starting to get his confidence back in the summer,” McIntosh said. “It really came to a head when he went downtown and played some pickup with guys from different schools and guys preparing for the NBA Draft. Everyone came back raving about (him).” 

The outside world was blind to it, but those donning the purple and white knew Barnhizer was hitting his stride. It was just a matter of when, not if, it would all come together. 


Before he played one possession in Evanston, Barnhizer was billed as NU’s point guard of the future. The vision was simple: play Barnhizer as a big guard in a similar role to his current coach in McIntosh. 

The returns of Buie and Audige threw those plans in flux, though. The duo are ball dominant guards packing a vicious one-two scoring punch, averaging a combined 31.8 points per game this year. The offense is inherently structured around them and “they need to have the ball in their hands” for the team to be successful, Barnhizer said. 

In turn, the Cats’ coaching staff and Barnhizer worked to find a new role. 

“We kind of realized that I can be a mismatch on offense and on defense,” Barnhizer said. “(I’m) able to switch one through four (defensively).”

The transition was made, and Barnhizer began to carve out a Swiss Army knife-esque position for NU. 

The progress was steady through the first month of the season. In the Cats’ first 10 games, Barnhizer played anywhere from 10 to 28 minutes, scoring no more than nine points but proving himself to be a willing rebounder and a capable wing defender on an elite defensive unit. 

The stars finally aligned in NU’s December clash with Illinois-Chicago.

Within 27 minutes, Barnhizer filled up the stat sheet, posting 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block as the Cats cruised to a 92-54 victory. McIntosh said Barnhizer’s stellar performance against the Flames was when the sophomore “started to figure it out.” Barnhizer said the game emphasized the fluidity of his new role.

“I knew I had a good game offensively,” Barnhizer said. “Having a pretty good night in every aspect of the game, I really saw that no matter the game, I can get a lot of rebounds one game, play make another game, score in other games … I can affect the game in so many ways.”

A vision was realized against the Flames: Barnhizer’s role may shift from game to game, but his value for this NU squad rests on that very flexibility. 


Fast forward roughly two and a half months, and Barnhizer’s role for the Cats has only increased in conference play. 

Heading into NU’s final home game against Penn State, Barnhizer has essentially been a sixth starter for Collins, averaging 27.2 minutes per game since Jan. 15. The uptick in minutes is predicated upon Barnhizer’s motor and versatility defensively — something which was instilled by his father. 

“My dad wasn’t really a great defender, so he always telling me that if I wanted to play, I’d have to be a pretty good defender,” Barnhizer said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, but if I can be smart and if I can play hard, good things will happen. I might mess up a switch or I might mess up a coverage every now and then, but my coaches can’t get too mad at me as long as I’m busting my tail.”

While Barnhizer’s effort defensively is where he earns his keep, his offensive production has climbed since facing Michigan mid-January. He has scored in double-figures in six games during that 14-game stretch, including a career-high 19 points against both Ohio State and Penn State, and has dipped below six points just once.

McIntosh said Barnhizer’s evolution on both ends of the floor has been “critical” to the team’s success this season. Collins heaped similar praise on Barnhizer’s growth as a sophomore.

“He’s one of the more underrated sixth men in our league,” Collins said. “The way he’s rebounded the ball, his defense and now he’s becoming a double-digit scoring threat for us. His improvement and development has been huge for our team.”

Barnhizer’s emergence as a viable third-scoring option behind Buie and Audige has been particularly evident in the Cats’ last four contests. 

Featuring for at least 28 minutes in each game, Barnhizer is averaging 13.3 points on 47.4% shooting from the field and a blistering 64.3% from beyond the arc. Barnhizer, who was Indiana’s top scorer as a senior in high school, has begun to show those offensive instincts as March Madness looms. 

Against the Nittany Lions on Wednesday, Barnhizer’s dazzling display coalesced with Buie’s efforts to keep NU in a proverbial rock fight, as Collins so often calls it. In 17 second-half minutes, Barnhizer was perfect, pouring in 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting, hitting all four of his three-point attempts.

As opposing defenses look to take the ball out of Buie and Audige’s hands, the Cats’ supporting cast chief among them Barnhizer need to make them pay, Collins said. 

“(Everybody else) really has to be aggressive so teams can’t really help all that much,” Barnhizer said. “I try to do my job — if I’m open, I’ve gotta shoot and be aggressive so I can take the pressure off of (Buie and Audige).”

McIntosh said Barnhizer is the kind of player “who leaves it all out there on the floor.” You need guys with that hunger to win a lot of games in the Big Ten gauntlet — as the Cats have done — but you also need those players to make a run in March.

Still, the journey is far from over for Barnhizer, both in the scope of this season and his career at NU. 

“Coming here, a big reason was to get us back to the (NCAA) Tournament and make us a winning program,” Barnhizer said. “I definitely think there are better things coming.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

Related Stories:

NU men’s basketball downs No. 1 Purdue in epic 64-58 comeback victory 

Northwestern’s B-Team of Buie, Barnhizer and Beran carry Cats to victory

Defense and supporting cast shine in Northwestern’s 54-52 versus Wisconsin