Men’s Basketball Roundtable: Previewing the 2017-18 Season

The Wildcats tip off their season on Friday night vs. Loyola (Md) at All State Arena. Before the season gets underway, our staff gives their predictions for the upcoming season.

Matt McHugh (@mattmcsports27): 23-8 (12-6 B1G)

I slept on the ‘Cats last year, and I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Everything clicked into place, and that has the ‘Cats sitting pretty coming into 2017-18. There are still some key questions for this season (Who will replace Sanjay Lumpkin’s defense? Will Aaron Falzon be the same/better after missing last season?) Regardless, the ‘Cats should be expected to be near the top of the pack in the Big Ten.

Player to watch: Aaron Falzon.

Falzon was relied on for his outside shooting in his freshman season, but the ‘Cats will need him to provide more than just shooting this year. If he can make the leap defensively, he could be a key part of this core for the next few years. 

Sam Brief (@sambrief): 23-8 (11-7 B1G)

Another easy non-conference schedule bodes well for Northwestern being in good position heading into the heat of conference play. With Law, Lindsey, B-Mac and Pardon all back, plus Falzon and Ivanauskas finally healthy, PLUS the addition of Anthony Gaines, this team is primed to be a top-15 team by year’s end. It’ll be worth the drive to Allstate Arena.

Player to watch: Scottie Lindsey. Lindsey’s shooting ability, length and athleticism make him a threat to be the Wildcats’ best player this year. Watch out.

Amit Mallik (@amitkmallik): 24-7 (12-6)

The Wildcats will push the top of the Big Ten, make a nice run in the conference tournament, and make their second NCAA tournament in as many years. Losing Sanjay Lumpkin will hurt their defensive identity, but their offense should improve with natural growth from the ‘Big Three’ of Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law. Add in the shooting of Aaron Falzon and more ball security from Isaiah Brown and you have the recipe for a run to the Sweet 16.

Player to watch: Aaron Falzon 

The sharpshooting forward is the key to unlocking the Wildcats’ offensive potential with the spacing he can provide at the four. If he can stay afloat defensively by avoiding weak closeouts and ball watching, he can garner serious minutes on a whirring offensive machine. 

Will Greer (@WillCGreer95): 22-9 (11-7 Big Ten)

Life after breaking a historically long postseason drought isn’t easy. Just ask the 2017 Chicago Cubs. The ‘Cats will be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament — maybe even as high as a No. 6 seed — but Allstate Arena and a lack of depth will hurt at times. 

Player to Watch: 
Isiah Brown. If Brown can take a sizable freshman-to-sophomore-year step, the Wildcats will have a dependable backup point guard and much-needed scoring depth off the bench. 

Ben Krieger (@TheBenKrieger): 23-8 (12-6)

Northwestern follows up its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance with its best season to date. The trio of Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Vic Law once again propels the team to multiple upsets in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats return to the dance, this time with a top 25 ranking and elite eight potential. 

Player to watch: Aaron Falzon

After starting 29 games as a freshman, Falzon missed essentially all of last year with a knee injury. Falzon excelled primarily in shooting from beyond the arc in his first season in Evanston, and he will need to pick up where he left off to replace the production of Nathan Taphorn. That said, if the former ESPN top-100 recruit can expand his game beyond simply three-point shooting, he can be the element that takes Northwestern from simply being as good as last year to being significantly better.

Ari Levin: 22-9 (11-7 B1G)

I do think the loss of Sanjay Lumpkin will be bigger than people are expecting, especially on the defensive end, and as a locker room leader. And playing at Allstate Arena will sap a lot of the energy that made last season so incredible, taking away some of the home court advantage. That being said, this is probably easily the most talented team Northwestern has fielded ever. And they should play like it.

Player to watch: Dererk Pardon

Pardon, while very strong last year, was among Northwestern’s weaker starters. There are rumors that over the offseason he progressed into one of the Big Ten’s top centers. I’m excited to see whether those rumors are true.

Jack Lido (@JackSLido) 22-9 (12-6)

With a highly unpredictable Big Ten, it’s pointless to go game by game and try to predict each win and loss. In general, I think the Cats will keep moving forward, but not anything more than 3rd in the Big Ten. I love the fact that four starters are returning, there’s really something to be said about the melding of the team that’s going on, which has become increasingly rare in today’s college basketball climate. The Cats need to continue to perform well as a starting 5, but to really go from good to great they need quality minutes off the bench, especially from young players like Rapolas Ivanauskas and Anthony Gaines.

Player to watch: Dererk Pardon

We know the man is a beast off the glass, and he can certainly make a big shot off a full court heave against Michigan, but for the Cats to go deep in the big dance, they need to look for Pardon as a scoring threat too. 8.6 points per game last year is nothing to scoff, but he’s still chasing big men like Nick Ward of Michigan State and Ethan Happ of Wisconsin, who averaged 13.9 and 14.0 PPG respectively. With Bryant McIntosh almost guaranteed to dish the ball all over the floor, look for Pardon to be a dual threat on both sides of the floor.

Ben Schachter (@benschachter_): 23-9 (12-6 BIG)

Northwestern figures to be even better this year, only losing Sanjay Lumpkin and Nate Taphorn. With the return of Aaron Falzon and Rapolas Ivanauskas, and the addition of Anthony Gaines, Northwestern should be able to replace those two players and add depth. On top of that, one more year of development for already dynamic players like Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey should put the ‘Cats in a position to challenge for a Big Ten title.

Player to watch: Vic Law

If Law can develop into a more consistent scorer for the ‘Cats, look for them to seriously challenge for a Big Ten title. Law has already proven himself as a defender and rebounder, and at times last season, we saw his offensive potential. If the 6-7 redshirt junior can become a more reliable scorer, not only will that elevate the Northwestern to a serious Big Ten title contender, but it will also make Northwestern a threat for a Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA tournament come March. 

Noah Coffman (@coffman_noah): 23-8 (11-7):

The team will come out strong, duplicating their 2016 non-conference record, but it will be tough for them to completely dominate in a Big Ten that is as strong top-to-bottom as its been in a while. They’ll breeze back to the tournament and will have a chance to do serious damage there, however.

Player to watch: Vic Law.

If Northwestern wants to make the leap to national contender status this year, Law will drive that leap. Arguably the most talented player on the team, the redshirt junior has already shown evidence of his defensive prowess. Now, he needs to take a big step offensively. Law being able to create his own shot and put up good scoring numbers consistent could go a long way for the Wildcats.

Jake Riepma (@Jake_Riepma): 20-11 (11-7 in B1G)

The target is on the ‘Cats back after last year’s success, but it won’t matter! This team reached new heights a year ago and I look for them to continue the momentum this year.

Player to watch: Bryant McIntosh.

McIntosh is a program changing player, and I anticipate his senior campaign being the metaphoric cherry on top of his storied Wildcat career. 

Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central): 23-8 (12-6 B1G)

This team has all the makings of a top tier team in the Big Ten. Experience in the backcourt in Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, a do-it-all guy in Vic Law, and a solid post player in Dererk Pardon. My biggest question/fear is how the Wildcats handle having a target on their back all season long after going through last season and frankly their entire history as the underdog. 

Player to watch: Anthony Gaines.

The freshman from Kingston, NY was super impressive to me in the Purple and White Scrimmage, showing a knack for getting to the rim. He should be an excellent rotation piece playing on the wing for the Wildcats to add more firepower for Chris Collins’ club offensively. 

Parker Johnson: 21-10 (10-8 B1G)

I foresee Northwestern being a very consistent team – built on a mix of last year’s gritty defense and a middling offense that returns 4 out of 5 starters and the top 5 scorers from last season. Although Northwestern should be a better team than they were last year, I think the combination of no home court advantage and the pressure of a No. 19 preseason ranking will lead to the ‘Cats taking a small step back this season, losing a couple conference stinkers at “home.” But even with a worse record, Northwestern will perform better in both Big Ten and NCAA postseasons because of experience and improved depth from last season.

Player to watch: Isiah Brown. The second year point guard was easily the ‘Cats best scoring option off the bench last year (6.8 ppg in 14.8 mpg), and if he can improve his efficiency (.332/.284/.768 shooting splits last season) he could become a viable second option for the ‘Cats in the backcourt alongside Bryant McIntosh.

Fredrick Bugyei: 23-8 (11-7 B1G)

The ‘Cats are returning 85.5 percent of their scoring and are coming off of the best season in program history. Last year the much improved Scottie Lindsey and consistently steady Bryant McIntosh anchored the Wildcats and in their senior seasons will look to do so again. Though the Cats return most of their scoring, not much of it came by way of the bench and that is still a question mark for this team. The starters played heavy minutes and the team started to look fatigued by the end of B1G ten play. For coach Collins’ team, the next step is to have a reliable bench that can give their core players the rest necessary to last throughout the season.

Player to watch: Isiah Brown.

The sophomore guard was able to win the backup point guard role over Jordan Ash last year and was immediately looked upon to be instant offensive. Brown loves to shoot but needs to display a more consistent shot in order for Coach Collins to rely on him in big moments. Most important for Brown will be improved decision making. If Brown can become a player who facilitates for others and makes the right decisions, he would be an important cog for a ‘Cats team looking to return to the big dance.

Ryan Coleman: 24-7

They bring back their top 6/7 scorers from last year and should end up at least in the top 4, if not top 3 or 2, in the Big Ten. Their biggest problem last year was 3-point shot percentage being around 34% but with Aaron Falzon coming off an injury from last year, who made 63 3s his freshman year, and and underrated freshman Anthony Gaines, this will help them out there. It should be an exciting year for Wildcat basketball

Jake Liker (@JakeLiker): 22-9 (11-7 B1G)
NU’s regular season will be defined by how the ‘Cats perform at the very beginning and at the very end. The opening “home” games played at your temporary home can be far more challenging than people realize, a lesson the UCLA Bruins taught me in November of 2011. The Nov. 15 meeting with Creighton could be very telling. Hopefully the ‘Cats are quite comfortable with their Rosemont residence by February, because they have a brutal stretch close out the season: Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa. 
Player to watch: Dererk Pardon: Northwestern was not a good shooting team last year––NU shot 43.6 percent from the field last year (226th in the Division I) and 41.8 percent in regular season conference play (12th in the Big Ten). The Wildcats, then, need to make up for missed shots with offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Pardon was by far the most imposing presence on the offensive glass last year, accounting for nearly a quarter of his team’s offensive rebounds. He has to continue to crash the boards this season, especially if the NU’s shooting doesn’t improve.

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