3 things we learned in Northwestern’s win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff
By Matt Weiss
Northwestern basketball is back, and the Wildcats could not have started the season better, routing Arkansas-Pine Bluff 92-49 at home Wednesday night.
Right from the get-go, the ‘Cats showed a promising maturation from last year’s 8-23 campaign. Although UAPB is not a top-tier competitor in D1 men’s basketball, the Wildcats displayed a much needed offensive jump from last season.
Without getting too far ahead, here are three overarching takeaways from Northwestern’s opening victory.
1. The Three Ball
Chris Collins was adamant on not settling for threes on a possession-by-possession basis, but in no way did the Cats settle for threes throughout the opening game. Led by Miller Kopp’s 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range, the Cats shot an astounding 48.3% from deep. Kopp, who shot 40% from beyond the arc in his sophomore season, showed immediate improvement hitting two-straight threes to open up the game.
However, while Miller Kopp may be Northwestern’s sharpshooter, contributions from across the lineup made the three ball such a deadly force for the ‘Cats. Sophomore transfer Chase Audige shot 3-of-8 from range while highly coveted four-star recruit Ty Berry went a spectacular 3-of-4. The ‘Cats were highly reliant on Kopp for shooting consistency in the 2019-20 season, but with seven different ‘Cats hitting threes Wednesday night, Northwestern seemed confident and able to pound the rock from across the court.
Besides the sharpshooting trio of Kopp, Berry, and Audige, Collins opened up the game without a true center, putting Pete Nance at the spread five. Nance, a capable shooter, went 1-of-4 from three but still remains a threat from the line.
While much of the success can be attributed to open looks against the Golden Lions’ lackluster perimeter defense, the ability to knock down 3-point shots is a priceless commodity that will benefit the ‘Cats greatly in Big Ten play if they can perform consistently as a team.
2. The Assists
Success surrounding the ‘Cats’ shooting can be directly attributed to the fantastic ball movement by guards Ryan Greer and Boo Buie. Greer recorded his first start for the Wildcats, and didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, recording a career-high eight assists. Meanwhile, Buie, coming off the bench due to a pregame illness, accounted for an additional seven assists.
Although Buie and Greer were driving the on-court action, Collins instilled a mantra that was incredibly present on the hardwood: don’t settle for threes. Even when putting up 3-pointers, open looks were a result of great movement and a desire to always find the open man. The cats rarely diverted to iso-ball, instead opting to find the mismatch, usually on whoever guarded Ryan Young in the post. At one point, 20 of Northwestern’s 24 field goals were assisted. As a result of the dynamic ball movement and distribution, the offense was incredibly fluid and balanced, with double-digit scoring coming from five players
3. The New Additions
While Miller Kopp and Pete Nance showed quality improvement from last year, two new additions to the program stole the show. Chase Audige and Ty Berry combined for 31 points and a fantastic 7-of-12 from range, both contributing heavily on the offensive side of the ball. Audige, a sophomore transfer from William & Mary, was forced to sit out all of last year after failing to acquire a waiver. The additional practice and familiarity with the program was immediately present in his game, as he naturally fit into the starting lineup and provided a much needed offensive spark. Berry, a four-star recruit out of Wichita, Kansas, came off the bench but still finished as the third-highest scorer on the team. Both players had a versatile impact on the game, and as a sophomore and first-year respectively, Audige and Berry still have much room for improvement. It will be exciting to watch both mature and improve under Collins’ coaching.
The Bottom Line
Watching the Wildcats soundly defeat a clearly worse opponent was incredibly comforting for fans, but after a fairly winnable non-conference schedule, the ‘Cats will be thrust into Big Ten play. The ‘Cats’ season will become a lot harder before it gets easier, opening conference play against No. 8 Michigan State and facing No. 5 Iowa nine days later. Defeating Arkansas Pine-Bluff is one thing, but remaining competitive and victorious in the best conference in NCAA basketball will prove to be a challenge for the ‘Cats. Regardless, the opening night route of Arkansas-Pine Bluff displayed an offensive maturation that could lead to great improvement for the ‘Cats in conference play. Northwestern looks to build on their unbeaten record on December 5 against Chicago State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.