While Northwestern football is on a bye this week, basketball season is around the corner. Northwestern takes on Quincy in an exhibition game Thursday night and opens up the season against UMass Lowell in a week. So instead of football, this week The NUmbers Guys, Ari Ross and Ryan Fish, break down six NUmbers that will define Northwestern men’s basketball’s 2015 season.
Last season Northwestern has the worst three-point field goal percentage defense in the Big Ten, allowing opponents to shoot 37.7 percent on three point attempts, averaging 7.4 three pointer made per game. Improved three-point defense will be a key for the Wildcats going into the 2014-15 season, especially in the non-conference against Marcus Paige and North Carolina and in Big Ten play. If Northwestern wants to make the NIT, or even the “Big Dance,” improved defense overall and three point defense will be key. Northwestern’s wings and guards need to better close out shooters, not allowing as many open threes.
Last season, there was a stretch of Northwestern basketball games in which the Wildcats did not record a single steal. On the season the Wildcats averaged just 3.7 steals per game, good for, you guessed it, worst in the Big Ten. As key as keeping their own turnovers’ down is, Northwestern also needs to force some turnovers of their own. Just a few extra possessions can be the difference in the game, and with just 3.7 steals per game, compared to 5.2 from their opponents, gave their opponents about 2 extra shots per game. This year, Northwestern’s going to have to force a few more steals if they want to win games in the Big Ten.
Vic Law averaged just 7.0 PPG in his freshman season with the Wildcats and if they want to win a few games in the Big Ten and possibly make the Big Dance, Law is going to have to step up in his sophomore season. After averaging 7.0 PPG and 4.8 RPG last season, Law needs to step it up, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The ‘Cats needs Law to average in the double-figures if they have aspirations of making the NCAA Tournament. Law was Chris Collins’ star recruit and after showing some promise near the end of the year last season, he needs to continue to develop and show more of that promise if the ‘Cats want to make noise in the Big Ten.
Not only was Northwestern’s three-point defense poor last season, but their three-point shooting also left a lot to be desired. The Wildcats ranked 91st in the nation last season, shooting 35.9 percent from beyond the arc. That figure was an improvement from Northwestern’s 30.6 percent three-point shooting in 2013-14, but the Wildcats still need to improve their shooting from distance in order to compensate for their lack of size in a physical Big Ten conference. Unless Alex Olah suddenly becomes the best center in the conference, the Wildcats’ outside shooting will have to produce its fair share of points.
Speaking of the Wildcats’ lack of size, Northwestern’s rebounding numbers were not particularly good last season. Specifically, the Wildcats struggled getting offensive rebounds in a big way; Northwestern grabbed only 8.7 offensive rebounds per game in 2014, good for 312th in the country. Not to mention, Chris Collins’ crew also had struggles in allowing offensive rebounds to their opponents. An improved Alex Olah and Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren (an upgrade from Jeremiah Kreisberg) could lead to a more consistent effort on the offensive glass, more putbacks and a potential aid to last season’s inconsistent offense.
Bryant McIntosh led the 2014 Wildcats with 150 assists in his freshman season (4.7 assists per game), coming within eight of Tim Doyle’s school record for assists in a single season. Needless to say, it was an excellent first college season for McIntosh, often looking poised and comfortable running the point before struggling a bit later in the year. While it’s vital that players like Alex Olah, Tre Demps and Vic Law improve this season, McIntosh must also avoid a sophomore slump for this Wildcats team to progress and make a run at postseason play.