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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: Northwestern prepares for Big Ten slate, early test against No. 1 Purdue

Alyce Brown/The Daily Northwestern
Graduate student guard Boo Buie attempts a three-pointer. The senior guard’s decision to return to Northwestern boosts its potential in conference play this season.

With freezing temperatures and falling snow in Evanston, all sights have shifted toward Northwestern’s conference schedule. 

The Wildcats (5-1, 0-0 Big Ten) started off the season on a red-hot four-game winning streak, notching quality nonconference wins over Dayton and Rhode Island.

Coach Chris Collins said he emphasized scheduling more formidable nonconference opponents early on in the season in preparation for elevated conference play. 

“We’ve tested ourselves well in these first six games and had to win in different ways, whether grinding it out against Western Michigan or coming back down (double-digits) to Binghamton,” he said.

Last year’s conference standings were separated by razor thin margins, as just one game split the No. 2 and No. 8 seeds. While NU soared to the second-seed, they could’ve plummeted down to ninth place –– had they just dropped their final regular season game at Rutgers.

With a bevy of prominent veterans returning throughout the conference and an array of young talent to boot, the 2023-2024 slate appears to be just as, if not more, competitive.  

Although the ’Cats are merely halfway through their nonconference schedule and slated to square off against five more opponents in December, their conference campaign begins this Friday. 

Waiting in the wings of Welsh-Ryan Arena in search of sweet revenge, a familiar foe foments Friday’s faceoff — reigning AP National Player of the Year Zach Edey and No. 1 Purdue.

“We’re going to have our hands full, but that’s why it’s exciting to play and why our guys work,” Collins said. “You want to have an opportunity to play against the best, and we’re going to have that chance here on Friday night.”

In addition to last year’s upset victory — the program’s first ever win against an AP No. 1 opponent — over the Boilermakers, NU boasted several statement conference victories down the stretch. The ’Cats beat Indiana and Wisconsin twice, while defeating Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa once en route to a 12-8 record in Big Ten play.

If NU is to secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year, the elusive 10-win conference threshold will be especially important. Reach that figure, and the ’Cats are dancing in back to back seasons for the first time in program history.

“There’s no question that we’re getting better,” Collins said. “I’m seeing signs where we’re not close to where we need to be for the meat of Big Ten play. But we’re going to do our best over the next (few weeks) before we get back into league play, which will be very important.” 

Once NU resumes conference play in January, the ’Cats will face several immediate opportunities to continue excelling, squaring off against Illinois and Michigan State for the first of two matchups. NU will also close the month facing the Boilermakers for a second time in West Lafayette.

The ’Cats will look to continue their streak as road warriors –– which they made a habit of last year. After defeating Wisconsin and Indiana in enemy territory last season, NU has another shot to repeat the same feat down the stretch.

Graduate student guard Boo Buie, who decided to return to Evanston after testing the waters of the NBA draft to play out his final year of eligibility, will play a pivotal role as the team’s primary ball handler and spark plug. He said the ’Cats are hungry to perform as conference competition commences.

“Our main goal is to come out and compete every night,” Buie said. “Obviously, we want to win, but the main thing is just focusing on getting better and sticking to our principles and playing our hearts out. That’s what we come into every game thinking, and we’re getting ready for Big Ten play.”

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