NU Sports Report Card: Winter Quarter

Ralph Wilson/AP

Ralph Wilson/AP

Northwestern students wait anxiously for grades to be made official this Wednesday.  We figured why not grade Northwestern sports team as well?  For the next few days, we’ll be issuing grades on a quarter-by-quarter basis.  Today we focus on winter quarter.

Women’s Basketball: A

By the Numbers:

23-9 (12-6 in B1G), first NCAA Tournament berth since 1997, one First Team All-Big Ten selection (Nia Coffey), two Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selections (Ashley Deary and Maggie Lyon), one Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection (Ashley Deary)

2015 marked the completion of a long rebuilding project and, boy, was it fun to watch.

Northwestern started 11-0, including a double overtime victory over ranked rival DePaul, and except for one mini skid in January, kept that momentum going through the whole season.  Northwestern beat 4 ranked opponents in 2015, besting DePaul in November, Michigan State in January, and Nebraska and Rutgers in February, a month where Northwestern was a sparkling 8-0.

By beating Rutgers twice in a little over a week to close the season, Northwestern earned a 7 seed for the NCAA Tournament, their first berth in nearly 20 years.  In their first round game against Arkansas, the Wildcats were up 12 with less than 9 minutes to play before succumbing to a ferocious Razorback comeback and losing 57-55.

Heartbreaking season enders aside, 2015 was a great year for the Wildcats and they did it with a razor thin rotation.  7 Wildcats averaged over 20 minutes per contest.  The eighth in the rotation, Lydia Rohde, averaged just 4 minutes per game in 20 appearances.  The Wildcats had little room for error, especially with Lauren Douglas and Christen Inman battling injuries.

All 7 players in the rotation were crucial.  Seniors Karly Roser and Alex Cohen maybe didn’t fill it up (Roser averaged 4.2 ppg, Cohen 8.8), but Roser’s steadying influence at the point and tough rebounding for a guard and Alex Cohen’s ability to stretch the floor at the 5 were key.  Lauren Douglas was a perfect sparkplug off the bunch, averaging 10 points and 4 boards in just over 20 minutes per game.  While her outside shooting regressed, Douglas still possessed a silky midrange game and a nose for getting to the hoop.  Christen Inman shot 51.8% on the floor and scored a little over 9 points per game.  Maggie Lyon was the sharpshooter, shooting above 40% from three and averaging nearly 14 points.  Ashley Deary is the prototype Blizzard Defense defender, constantly popping up in passing lanes and picking pockets, finishing 13th in the nation in steals per game with 3.09.  Nia Coffey was the all star.  She averaged 16 points, 9 rebounds and almost 2 blocks earning First Team All-Big Ten status.

Northwestern returns its 5 leading scorers next season, but needs to replace 2 players of their 7 person rotation, making up nearly 25% of the minutes.  NU brings in two fairly highly touted recruits in Jordan Hankins, ESPN’s 33rd ranked point guard and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, ESPN’s 17th ranked post player.  Hankins appears to be the most obvious replacement for Karly Roser with Nof Kedem playing just 47 minutes last year and Alexis Glasgow transferring to Penn.  Kunaiyi-Akpanah has good size at 6-2 (or 6-3 depending on where you look), but sliding Coffey to center and running Douglas at the 4 seems the more likely situation right now.  Northwestern may have to get some minutes from Allie Tuttle or Christen Johnson to soften the blow of Cohen’s graduation.

Northwestern will once again be talented in 2015-16.  But they’re going to need a couple of players to step up to be deep enough to get back to the Big Dance.

Men’s Basketball: C+

By the Numbers:

15-17 (6-12 in B1G), two Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selections (Tre Demps and Alex Olah), one Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection (Bryant McIntosh)

Year two of the Great Chris Collins Rebuilding Project was, well, identical to year one.

Northwestern’s 6-12 conference mark equalled its mark from 2013-14.  Northwestern did win one more game this year, finishing with a 15-17 mark.

Northwestern, for the most part, won the games they were supposed to in what was a soft non-conference slate.  The Wildcats lost to one of the best mid-majors in the country in Northern Iowa and lost to a ranked Butler team, but were beaten soundly by ACC also-rans Georgia Tech and Central Michigan. 

Conference play was a tale of two seasons, or maybe more accurately, two defenses.  After beating Rutgers (the worst power conference team by KenPom ranking), Northwestern lost 10 straight games, including heartbreakers against Ohio State (69-67), Michigan (56-54), and a buzzer beater loss to Maryland (68-67).  Thanks Dez Wells.  You jerk.

But then Northwestern went from man-to-man defense to zone and they started winning.  They beat Iowa in overtime, Minnesota on the road, held Penn State to under 40, and then beat Indiana in what was a peak Tom Crean kind of game.  The last win would come March 3rd in an unforgettable double-overtime thriller against Michigan.

Northwestern finished 10th in the conference last year, which isn’t terrible for a team that had to replace an all-time great in Drew Crawford and had three freshmen in prominent roles in the rotation.

Scottie Lindsey started 10 games and averaged 15 minutes.  Vic Law started 19, and thanks to a hot stretch to close the season, finished with an average of 7 points and 5 boards per night.  Bryant McIntosh was the stud of the class, averaged 11 points, 4.7 assists, 2.5 boards, and shot a team best 36.4% from deep.  The Hoosier earned a place on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team alongside James Blackmon Jr, Melo Trimble, Jae’Sean Tate, and presumed top 3 pick D’Angelo Russel.

NU’s older guard was headlined by Alex Olah and Tre Demps.  Olah continued his development into one of the Big Ten’s better centers, averaging 12 and 7 this year.  Demps added to his catalogue of clutch shots in wins against Elon, North Florida, and Michigan and led the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game.  Northwestern will miss graduating senior JerShon Cobb, who despite playing through every lower body injury you can imagine, did average 6 points and 3 rebounds in his final year in purple.

Northwestern replaces Cobb, Dave Sobolewski, Jeremiah Kreisberg and transferring Johnnie Vassar with some more big name recruits.  Top 100 rated stretch forward Aaron Falzon headlines the 60th best class in the country (according to 247 Sports), along with combo guard Jordan Ash and 6-7 forward Dererk Pardon.  NU also added a transfer in ex-Virginia Tech big man Joey Van Zegeren.

2015-16 is going to be a key year for Chris Collins and his program.  Northwestern should be better next season, but the rest of the Big Ten will be making big steps too.  The conference is littered with top rated recruits, returning stars, and even a couple of big name transfers (watch out for Michigan State’s Eron Harris).  Tre Demps and Alex Olah will be seniors, and it would be a real bummer if they can’t lead Northwestern to an NCAA Tournament.

Wrestling: A-

By the Numbers:

12-8 (2-7 in conference), 15th place at the NCAA Championships, two Big Ten champions (Jason Tsirtsis at 149 lbs and Mike McMullan at 285 lbs)

The Big Ten is a wrestling conference, there’s no doubt about it.  That’s how NU can finish 11th in the conference in the regular season and still finish 15th in the country.

Ohio State won the national title by a large margin, Iowa came in 2nd, Penn State came in 6th, Minnesota came in 8th, Nebraska came in 9th, Michigan and Illinois went 11 and 12, Northwestern came in 15th, and Wisconsin and Indiana also placed in the top 25.  Basically, if you win the Big Ten, or even come in the top half, it means that you’re a contender to win the national title.  NU’s 2-7 conference mark isn’t that bad when you look at it like that.

Northwestern was led individually by Jason Tsirtsis and Mike McMullan.  Tsirtsis won the Big Ten Title at 149 lbs and brought a 36-2 record into the NCAA Championships where he looked to defend his national title as the 2nd seed.  He’d come close, falling to 3rd seeded David Habat from Edinboro in the semifinals.

McMullan won the Big Ten Title as a heavyweight and was also seeded 2nd in his class thanks to a 29-3 record.  McMullan met the same fate as Tsirtsis, bowing out in the semifinals, bested by 6-seed Adam Coon of Michigan.

Drew Pariano’s squad will have to replace Mike McMullan, but Tsirtsis will be back for his redshirt junior campaign in 15-16.  Tsirtsis, you have to think, is going to be hungry to get that national title back (for more on Tsirtsis check out Inside NU’s feature).  Northwestern has no time to reload in the stacked Big Ten, but as long as Tsirtsis is a Wildcat, there will be hardware to stack.

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