Northwestern men’s basketball 2020 Season Preview
By Lawrence Price
Expectations were not high entering the 2019-20 season for the Northwestern men’s basketball program.
Jumping a year forward, the odds are once again against it.
With an abrupt ending last season, the team finished second to last in the Big Ten with an 8-23 overall record (3-17 in-conference), only placing ahead of Nebraska, a team that ended on a 17-game skid. The Big Ten may be even more competitive than usual this time around as seven teams secured spots in the preseason AP Top 25, the most among all conferences.
Head coach Chris Collins led a relatively young group last year, listing only two seniors on the roster in AJ Turner and grad-transfer Pat Spencer, and now has an even younger bunch with no seniors rostered.
This could come as a shock to some, as Northwestern is not known for nor filled with what most consider one-and-done talent, so you would expect a larger number of experienced players than the zero listed. However, the good news is that four of the top-five scorers are returning. This can equate to more developed and better players than a year ago. But on the other hand, the offense was the biggest problem for the ‘Cats.
Ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 319th nationally, points were hard to come by. And with the defense allowing 70.1 points per game, it was an all-around struggle. Of course, those woes resulted in the team’s poor record, but these were especially exploited in crucial moments, as Northwestern lost nine games by five points or less.
Collins enters his eighth season at the helm with his youngest group yet, so expect it to take time to put all the pieces together, but the potential is there. Alongside the four top scorers in Miller Kopp, Boo Buie, Ryan Young and Pete Nance, the ‘Cats get back wing Anthony Gaines who will play a major role on defense, and a solid, athletic guard in William & Mary transfer Chase Audige. The team added three first-years as well in Ty Berry, a Kansas guard who can shoot the rock and hopefully help a team that struggled in this category, as well as seven-footer Matt Nicholson and preferred walk-on Dom Martinelli.
3 MAJOR QUESTIONS:
There is more concern surrounding how the season will be impacted by COVID-19 and the 20-game conference schedule, but before the season kicks off, here are a few quick questions to look out for.
Can Miller Kopp take his game to the next level and become the star Northwestern desperately needs?
All eyes will be on the forward entering his junior campaign. Kopp not only made the jump from averaging 4.9 points his freshman year to 13.1 as a sophomore, but was also the team’s leading scorer. He arguably had one of the most improved seasons around the conference last year, shooting 40% from deep, but the team’s disappointing production limited this argument. Now in the spotlight with two seasons under his belt, the junior needs to kick it up a notch, which includes improving his points-per-game and becoming a player NU can lean on when the game is on the line.
What does Boo Buie’s sophomore campaign look like?
Buie showed off his scoring ability and explosiveness throughout his freshman season, clearly setting him up as the future primary point guard for the Cats. Going into season two, I think Buie can only get better, and with guards like Audige and Berry he can play off of, the sophomore will make a name for himself in the Big Ten.
Can this be Pete Nance’s break out year?
Like Kopp, Nance was a highly scouted four-star recruit coming out of high school. However, he has yet to show his true potential after he averaged 8.5 points last season with just three double-doubles. Collins said the big man put on 10-12 pounds of muscle throughout the offseason, which could be a game changer in terms of his physicality amongst other big men. If Nance can bring it together, we will see a nasty combination of him and Kopp becoming problems for any opponent.
In his latest press conference, Collins said he told his players to not harp on last year’s struggles, and move on instead, but with a very competitive Big Ten and the rebuilding ‘Cats, I think Northwestern is going to find itself back at the bottom of the Big Ten rankings at the end of the season.