McIntosh vs Indiana
Bryant McIntosh has a strong claim for Northwestern’s MVP, do our staffers agree? (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

With both the men’s and women’s teams nearing the halfway point of Big Ten play, three of our staffers (Will Greer, Adam Braunstein, and John Beers) answered three questions relating to both teams in this edition of 3-on-3.

1. Who has been Northwestern men’s basketball’s MVP so far this season and why?

Adam: Bryant McIntosh has, without a doubt, been Northwestern men’s basketball’s MVP so far this season. Offensively, everyone knows that McIntosh can put up points in a hurry, but his passing commonly goes under the radar. His average of 7.0APG currently leads the Big Ten over Iowa guard Mike Gesell and Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine. Reliability is another key reason why McIntosh is this team’s MVP. In a ‘Cats season overwhelmed by injuires, McIntosh has been on the floor each contest, and is top 5 in the conference in minutes played. Northwestern has needed McIntosh this year, and he has come through in a big way.

Will:  The unbelievably obvious answer is the correct one. Northwestern men’s basketball’s MVP so far this season has to be Bryant McIntosh. Not only does McIntosh lead the team in scoring and assists per game, the sophomore guard has had big time performances in Northwestern’s biggest wins, including a game-high 28 points against Wisconsin. Imagining this team without McIntosh is a scary, scary thought.

John: I don’t think there is an argument that can be made for anyone other than Bryant McIntosh. Just like every other Wildcat, the sophomore point guard has struggled throughout the current four game losing streak, shooting 28% from the field and seeing his scoring average dip to just over 10 points per game,but before that McIntosh seemed like he was well on his way to battling the likes of Melo Trimble and Yogi Ferrell for a guard spot on the 1st Team All-Big Ten. Even with his recent struggles, McIntosh’s mark of 6.8 assists/game is still the best in the conference, and he still stands as one of the only Wildcats who has put the team on his back to single-handedly win games. Anyone who watched the Columbia or Wisconsin games knows just how special McIntosh can be and why he remains the key to Northwestern’s success this season and beyond.

2. Heading into the back half of the conference season, what does Chris Collins’ team need to improve the most if they have a shot at making the NIT?

Adam: Coach Collins’ squad needs to do a better job on the 3 point line on both ends of the floor. In the ‘Cats last two losses against the Hoosiers and Spartans, Northwestern game up a combined 29 3 pointers. By comparison, Northwestern connected on 9 shots from long range in that span. That means that in NU’s last two games, they have been outscored by 60 points just from 3 pointers. While one could argue that several NU players may just be in a simultaneous shooting slump, Coach Collins will have to improve the team’s defensive effort out on the perimeter in order to win some games against quality opponents.

Will: Chris Collins’ team needs to improve in a ton of areas, but perimeter defense and shot selection have to be near the top of the list. Opponents have cashed in big time in recent weeks from beyond the arc, largely because of the ‘Cats’ inability to close out on shooters and contest jumpers. And on the offensive side of the floor, shot selection has to improve. Northwestern settles for way too many long jumpers and high-arcing floaters.

John: Showing up against a ranked team would be a nice start. While the Maryland game in College Park may have given us all a glimpse of this Northwestern team’s max potential, in the end, it was still a loss and the only game against a ranked opponent where the Wildcats were competitive. With a big road game against Iowa this Sunday, as well as a road trip to West Lafayette later in the season, the Wildcats still have two attempts to pull an upset against a ranked foe. Win either of those games and win the games they’re supposed to (Illinois, Penn State, Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota) and you’re looking at at least a 21-10 team with a handful of quality wins. Should they then make any noise in the Big Ten Tournament, and the Wildcats would seem like a lock for NIT play.

3. The women’s basketball team sits 2-7 in Big Ten play after a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State on Thursday. What do they need to do over their final 9 conference games to allow themselves an opportunity to qualify for a second consecutive NCAA Tournament?

Adam: Win! It is that simple. Despite the ‘Cats valiant effort in Columbus on Thursday night, they will not be dancing in March unless they improve their Big Ten record- which now sits at 2-7. Looking ahead at the schedule, Northwestern will have a chance to significantly improve its tournament hopes on Valentine’s Day when they take on the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland took care of business rather emphatically last time the two teams met, however, this match-up will take place at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where the ‘Cats hold a 8-3 record. While Coach McKeown’s team has a lot of work to do before they take on the Terps, this has the potential to be a season defining game.

Will: Realistically, the NCAA tournament is pretty much out of the question for this team unless they win eight of their last nine conference games and make a bit of a run in the Big Ten Tournament. And even that might not be enough.

John: Joe McKeown’s team is currently nursing a four game losing streak and has as many losses (eight) as they did all regular season last year. Their last opportunity to prove their merit comes when the No. 5 Maryland Terripans come to Evanston for a Valentines Day showdown. Win that game, and you could make the argument that McKeown’s team could suffer two other losses and still be a tournament contender. Lose that game, and I think anything but a flawless record in all other contests and a strong showing at the Big Ten tournament dooms Nia Coffey and company to a Women’s NIT bid rather than a ticket to the big dance.

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