By Lucio Vainesman
It was an electric night at Welsh-Ryan Arena for the Northwestern Wildcats’ season opener as they defeated the New Orleans Privateers by a score of 82-52. It wasn’t a convincing win at all times, but the Wildcats were able to move on with an important opening win to tipoff the 2018-19 campaign. While the score was closer than expected for a majority of the game, the Wildcats eventually pulled away and gave us a little taste of what to expect for the rest of the season.
Analytics Basketball all the way
It looks like Coach Chris Collins is following in the footsteps of analytics wizard Daryl Morey and his three-point barrage method. Exactly one half of the Wildcats’ 60 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. Even though they shot it at a decent 36.7 percent clip, Northwestern can’t get too cozy with settling for three-point shots, especially pull-up threes early in the shot clock. This strategy can get you wins against non-conference teams like New Orleans, but once December hits and the Big Ten teams start coming in, Northwestern is going to have to figure out other ways to score the ball. Coach Collins had some thoughts about their shot selection: “We got away from Pardon, especially in the first half. We have an elite big man, and we got a little three-point happy.”
“Defense is our calling card.”
Coach Collins opened the press conference emphasizing the importance of team defense. Probably one of the biggest positives of the night was this aforementioned defense, illustrated by Northwestern’s ability to pressure the opposing ball-handlers the length of the court through sophomore guard Anthony Gaines. Coach Collins has to be proud of the way his team played on the defensive end, as they held the Privateers to 2-10 from the three-point line during the game and 40.8% from the field. Along with the strong three-point defense, the Wildcats were also able to disrupt the passing lanes the entirety of the game as they forced seven steals to go along with 15 total turnovers. Strong defensive performances like this one should be enough to keep the Wildcats in games going forward in the season.
Newcomers didn’t disappoint:
Although Ryan Taylor, a graduate transfer from Evansville, didn’t think he shot well enough tonight, it’s fair to say that Coach Collins will live from 6-11 from three moving forward. Taylor led the team with 20 points on the night to go with a team-high seven made field goals. The impact that true first year Miller Kopp had shouldn’t be overlooked either. Starting at forward on opening night is a tall task for a first year player, but he didn’t look out of place for even a second: Kopp disrupted the opposing offense all night and knocked down three shots to go along with three assists.
The Wildcats are back in action Monday night, hosting American University at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 7 p.m.