Basketball season has arrived. Coming off a 20-12 (8-10 Big Ten) record last season, Northwestern men’s basketball is set to face off against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils on Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats lost their senior leaders from last season, Tre Demps and Alex Olah, but will debut some fresh faces. Point guard Isiah Brown impressed with 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the exhibition game against Illinois-Springfield, and redshirt sophomore Vic Law returns after missing the entire 2015-16 season due to shoulder surgery. Bryant McIntosh comes in as the Wildcats’ clear leader – a potential top Big Ten point guard.
Mississippi Valley State enters Evanston after going 8-27 last year and 6-25 the previous season. The Delta Devils also fell to Northwestern, 78-48, a year ago.
Here are the three key questions that will determine Friday’s season opener.
Can Northwestern win the rebounding battle?
Standing at 6-foot-8, Dererk Pardon often finds himself outmatched against bigger Big Ten centers. Lucky for him, Mississippi Valley State will likely counter with TJ Traylor, who is also 6-foot-8. Mississippi Valley State is a team that, like Northwestern, lacks size, but also similar to the Wildcats, rebounds the ball well for a short team (35.3 RPG to Northwestern’s 36.4). The Pardon-Traylor matchup will be key, but Northwestern’s greatest question is the depth behind their big man. Winning the rebounding battle will be essential.
How will Northwestern’s sharpshooters fare?
Mississippi Valley State ranked first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference last season in three-point shooting defense. Their strong perimeter defense held opponents to just 30.3 percent from behind the arc – that’s eighth-best in the nation. Northwestern’s shooters – Aaron Falzon, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and even Isiah Brown – will be tested.
Will Northwestern stop Marcus Romain?
The formula to stopping Mississippi Valley State runs through stopping Marcus Romain. The senior was the Delta Devils’ leading scorer last year and was the sixth-most used player in the country last season, according to KenPom’s percentage of possessions used statistic. If Northwestern’s defense shuts Romain down, they should coast. If not, the Delta Devils can hang around.