After starting 3-0 in Big Ten play, Northwestern has changed the narrative
By Matt Weiss
Northwestern has continued to defy all expectations for its 2020 campaign, except of course, those of the ‘Cats themself.
After scoring 17 points in the second half of Northwestern’s defeat of Indiana on Dece. 23, Chase Audige sat down with Andy Katz to recap the game and the season thus far.
“We already know the narrative of people saying we can’t finish,” Audige said. “We take that kinda stuff personal.”
The narrative is clear: Northwestern is a small fish in a big pond. The ‘Cats face opponents who consistently breach the inner rounds of the NCAA tournament, while Northwestern received its first and only birth in 2017. Northwestern may not be the biggest team, the most athletic team, maybe not even the best team, but Northwestern has one invaluable asset on its side: a chip on their shoulder. Audige’s comments reflect the ruthless mentality of Northwestern’s 6-1 basketball team, a team that has switched the narrative of Chris Collins’ basketball program. While Boo Buie was named the Big Ten Player of the Week after dropping a 30 piece on Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Northwestern received less than 10 votes on the succeeding AP Poll.
“We take that kinda stuff personal.” Audige’s comments ring true still, and will continue to throughout the season as Northwestern burns a path through the toughest conference in NCAA basketball, dropping dimes, buckets, and leaving fat ‘ol Ls everywhere they go. After defeating then-No. 4 Michigan State and highly touted Indiana, the next stop on Northwestern’s revenge tour was No. 23 Ohio State.
The Wildcats played their most defensively sound game all season against an Ohio State team loaded with offensive weapons. Despite EJ Lidell, Kyle Young, and Justice Sueing dominating the offensive boards, Northwestern was able to pull away from Ohio State in the final minutes and earn a 71-70 win against the Buckeyes. Northwestern’s defense kept Ohio State’s two best players in check, limiting EJ Lidell and Duane Washington to a combined 22 points. A staunch defensive front allowed Northwestern to climb on top in the final minutes, stopping the Buckeyes on three-straight possessions in the final four minutes.
Northwestern’s offense began slowly, as per usual, but as soon as the rock was in Miller Kopp’s hands, the Wildcats were off and running. Kopp scored twelve out of the ‘Cats’ first fourteen points, finishing the contest with a game high 23 points off of 9-of-16 shooting. Although Kopp’s dominant trait is his sharpshooting, the junior forward contributed on all ends for the Wildcats. Kopp’s defense was the highlight of his play, forcing a team high three steals. At 54% from three, Kopp is second in the Big Ten from range, and his ability showed hitting 3-of-4 shots from downtown. Against both Indiana and now Ohio State, Kopp has cemented himself as not only a top player on the Wildcats, but a top threat coming out of the Big Ten.
Boo Buie was also instrumental on offense, adding 14 points of his own while also recording five assists with no turnovers. The key to Northwestern’s offense is ball movement and activity, and Buie was a catalyst on Northwestern’s offense. His penetrations and kick outs allowed for other players, such as Kopp, to nail shots from wide open looks.
While Kopp highlighted Northwestern’s performance against Ohio State, the best part about Wildcat basketball is that although one player might shine, each win is truly a product of wholesome team basketball. Even while shooting 1-of-7 from the field through the first 35 minutes of play, Chase Audige scored one of the biggest buckets of the game, nailing a three to give the Cats the lead with under two minutes to play. Not only that, but Audige recorded the filthiest defensive play of the year when wholeheartedly denying Duane Washington on a driving jumper. Audige has been somewhat inconsistent on the court, but when push comes to shove, the redshirt sophomore has shown that clutch gene, what differentiates good from great.
Off the bench Robby Beran and Ryan Young were invaluable additions, as Beran’s defensive intensity allowed the Wildcats to force almost ten turnovers in just the first half. Ryan Young was unguardable in the post. Regardless of if EJ Lidell or Kyle Young were matched onto the second year big men, Young was able to get anything he wanted on the glass on 4-of-6 shooting.
The Wildcats showed their skill, resilience, and intensity throughout the course of the game after trailing for a majority of the second half. Regardless of the adversary or the obstacle, the Wildcats have shown that they have the maturity and experience to compete and win at the highest level of college hoops. In every aspect of Northwestern athletics, our teams enter the Big Ten arena with a chip on their shoulder. Not only is their skill questioned, but also their belonging in the big ten. Chris Collins’ squad has shown not only that the ‘Cats belong in the Big Ten, but that Northwestern is the team to beat in the best conference in college basketball. I hope Iowa will be heavily favored for Tuesday’s matchup, because I know the flame fueling the Wildcats will be burning ever brighter.