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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Basketball: 2023-24 Wildcat entrance roundtable

Daily file photo by Esther Lim
Senior guard Ty Berry and graduate student guard Boo Buie.

 How does Northwestern build off last season? That’s the question on everyone’s mind ahead of the Wildcats’ season opener against Binghamton on Monday. Coming off its second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and a program-record 12 conference wins, coach Chris Collins will look to replicate last year’s success with a refreshed group, one which boasts six new faces.

The Daily’s men’s basketball beat reporters gave their thoughts on what to anticipate this season. 

1. The ‘Cats struggled shooting the ball last season. How does NU remedy that inefficiency this season?

Alex Cervantes: It starts with Princeton transfer and graduate student guard Ryan Langborg, who is coming off a career-low 33.2% shooting from beyond the arc last season while attempting 6.2 3-pointers per game — the most of his career. Collins will be hoping Langborg’s shooting returns to his junior year clip, when he posted 40.5% shooting from distance, the third-highest mark in the Ivy League during the 2021-22 campaign. 

Improvement from senior guard Ty Berry, who shot 29.1% from 3-point range as a junior, coupled with junior guard Brooks Barnhizer’s end-of-year shooting form, should see the ‘Cats improve on their 32.1% 3-point percentage mark. 

Lawrence Price: CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein provided an answer on X, formerly known as Twitter, to this question a week ago — Barnhizer will start the season at power forward in NU’s four-guard lineup.

Collins’ small-ball lineup last season proved problematic for defenses because of how much it opened up the offense and allowed its four-best shooters from distance to be on the floor at once. Of course, Chase Audige is gone, but with the additions of Langborg and sophomore guard Justin Mullins, this bunch won’t be taking a step back whatsoever.

Aayushya Agarwal: With the departures of Audige and Robbie Beran, NU has lost a large portion of its scoring. Langborg, the team’s new addition and a career 36.3% 3-point shooter, will ensure the ‘Cats are more consistent from beyond the arc.

At the same time, an expanded role for Berry, who shot a career-low percentage from deep last season, and increased perimeter opportunities for Barnhizer and Mullins will benefit NU’s overall shooting so as to not prove too cumbersome for graduate student guard Boo Buie. 

2. In what ways do you expect NU’s three transfer portal additions to make an impact?

Cervantes: I’ll start with the easiest assessment: graduate student forward Blake Preston. The former Liberty Flame will step into the backup center role vacated by Tydus Verhoeven. Preston will provide stability in the frontcourt, snagging boards — he ranked first in the ASUN in offensive rebounding percentage (.152) during conference play — and anchoring the interior defense. 

For Langborg, he’ll step in and be expected to provide shooting immediately. He can play on and off the ball and will get a bevy of 3-point looks from chances created by Buie and Barnhizer. 

Finally, Mullins could very well fill Audige’s role as NU’s primary perimeter defender when Big Ten play rolls around. He’s a good on-ball defender, ranking third in the Summit League in steal percentage last season, per KenPom. On offense, he’ll be more of a slasher, looking to play in the open court in transition and get to the rim in the halfcourt. 

Price: When one elite perimeter defender exits, another enters. Now, I’m not saying Mullins is the next Audige, but assistant coach Chris Lowery just got his hands on a sophomore guard that he can develop. The University of Denver transfer also shot 36.5% from deep. Shooting and defense with space to grow? I like what Mullins brings to the table.

Getting a preview of Langborg at the 2023 NCAA Tournament during Princeton’s run was electric. Placing him alongside another dynamic guard in Buie, defenses aren’t ready for the tandem. Two veteran guards that can create their own shot and playmake will be an early Christmas present for Collins and company.

Verhoeven was a sufficient backup to senior center Matthew Nicholson — what he lacked on the offensive end was typically made up on defense. 

Enter Preston.

The 6-foot-9 center gives Collins another weapon is his artillery and an experienced big man that can take the load off of Nicholson’s plate. The return of sophomore forward Luke Hunger to the lineup, who was sidelined nearly all of last year due to injury, is a plus as well. 

Agarwal: NU made a splash in the transfer portal, landing three players destined to make an immediate impact. With the addition of Langborg, the ‘Cats found the ideal complement to pair with Buie in the backcourt. 

Mullins’ arrival in Evanston, who averaged 1.5 steals per game last season, will help NU continue to establish its defensive identity. Lastly, Preston will ensure the ‘Cats receive frontcourt offensive contributions from the bench, especially when more size is needed to match up against conference opponents.

3. What is the most important storyline of the 2023-24 campaign, and will the ‘Cats go dancing again?

Cervantes: There are a number of storylines to monitor, but chief among them is whether this team remains as defensively stout — 22nd in defensive efficiency nationally — as it did last year. Collins’ portal additions, on paper, provide a much-needed offensive lift — which NU’s lead man said needed improvement. 

All that aside, replacing Audige’s defensive presence is an incredibly tough task. The team’s patented post trapping under Lowery will remain, but some early nonconference tests against Dayton and potentially Mississippi State will provide ample opportunity for the ‘Cats to test their defensive mettle — similar to when they established themselves against Auburn in Cancun last season. 

Will NU go dancing? The pieces are there to run it back, but the ‘Cats will have to be nearly perfect in nonconference play before entering the Big Ten gauntlet at the start of January to set themselves up for a comfortable Selection Sunday.

Price: I’m very interested in the offensive development of starters and important role players outside of Buie.

Last year, it was clear the offense ran through both Buie and Audige. But when those two couldn’t get going, the ‘Cats struggled. Luckily, NU’s smothering defense limited many issues and guys like Barnhizer rose to the occasion. Now, teams are going to put an even bigger emphasis on Buie than they did last year.

I’m excited to see Barnhizer’s junior campaign, but I’m also interested to see if Berry will get back to his old self, whether Nicholson expanded his game and how transfers like Langborg and Mullins produce.

When it comes to the Big Dance, I’d bet the house on it.

Agarwal: The ‘Cats rolling out a small starting five is one of the more important storylines in Evanston. Notably, Berry and Barnhizer starting on the wings, especially Barnhizer as a small-ball four, means there will be ample space on the perimeter for NU. 

The ‘Cats are currently projected to finish in the middle of the Big Ten race — which should be good enough for Collins and Co. to go dancing for a second-straight year. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @LPIII_TRES

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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