Northwestern has Lost 9 Straight. Why Keep Watching?
By Nicholas Magas
It feels like decades ago that the Northwestern men’s basketball team won three-straight games to open Big Ten play. Yes, it was early in the season, but all signs at the beginning of this year were pointing toward the NCAA Tournament. The team looked mature, athletic and disciplined.
Then the losses started to pile up.
As the season took a turn for the worse, Northwestern fans tried to stay positive. There was always hope, always time for the team to get back on track. Any moment now, a few made shots would turn into a win, which would turn into a hot streak, which would turn into the opportunity to play in March. But that moment never came. The defeats came in all shapes and sizes, and the ‘Cats appeared helpless as they descended deeper and deeper into the catacombs of the Big Ten standings.
Chris Collins’ squad, coming off a painstaking defeat at the hands of Purdue, has now lost nine straight. Any hope for this year is lost, and major adjustments need to be made if next year’s campaign is going to be any different. For now, students, fans and alumni are forced to gaze upon the smoldering wreckage of a once-promising season. Even still, there are a few reasons you should continue to watch Northwestern games through the remainder of the season.
1. Pete Nance can shoot now
In the midst of the season’s darkness, Pete Nance has been a flickering light. The junior forward has shown tremendous growth on both sides of the ball, but it is his newfound offensive skill set that may prove to be invaluable to the team next year. In just two years, Nance has gone from an offensive burden to his team’s most consistent scorer.
As a first-year, Nance battled through mono mid-season, averaging under 13 minutes and putting up a measly 2.9 points per game. Northwestern’s highest rated recruit in history sputtered through the season, making fewer than 35% of his attempts from the field. Nance improved minimally in his sophomore campaign, averaging 8.5 points per game in twice as many minutes as the year prior. Inefficiency became the chief concern, as Nance shot only 29.7% from three-point range on over 100 attempts.
If nothing else, this season has demonstrated the metamorphosis of Pete Nance. He has become more athletic with the basketball, adding abilities to get to rim and to shoot from the perimeter in a fashion that rivals some of the Big Ten’s best big men. He now consistently scores in double-digits, converting over 50% of his field goals and knocking down 35.4% of his three-point attempts. While Nance has yet to reach his true ceiling, his ability to stretch the floor has given Collins legitimate options in terms of how to utilize his prized recruit. Keep an eye on number 22 down the stretch, and hope that he continues these upward trends into his final collegiate season.
2. Every game has the potential to be an upset
The Big Ten is stacked top to bottom. The electric talent that runs through the conference makes the potential for each victory just a bit more exciting. Coming up for the ‘Cats is a home matchup against Indiana. Northwestern got the best of them on the road early in the season, but the Hoosiers took down an excellent Iowa team twice in the last few weeks, and head coach Archie Miller has his team back on track and looking as strong as they have all season. If Northwestern can keep a lid on the scoring prowess of Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Wildcats have legitimate potential to get back in the win column.
Matchups against Illinois and Wisconsin also come later this month. For the Illini, Ayo Dosunmu is tearing up opposing defenses with his 21 points per game. He may not even be the best player on that team; Kofi Cockburn is averaging a double-double on the season. Illinois outscored Northwestern by 40 points in the second half the first time the two teams met. The ‘Cats’ lights-out first half is something to build upon, however, as Northwestern showed it has what it takes to hang with its in-state rivals. NU also gets the chance to face Wisconsin again, whose duo of D’Mitrik Trice and Tyler Wahl gave them fits in a 16-point loss a few weeks ago.
With each of these three games sprinkled with future NBA talent, Northwestern should show up with a nothing-to-lose attitude. While the Illinois and Wisconsin games will be especially difficult, the lopsided matchups only make potential for an upset even more exciting. With the majority of this season already down the drain, this Northwestern team still has the opportunity to prove its resilience.
3. These could be Chris Collins’ final games as head coach
Fan voices calling Northwestern to move on from its once-esteemed man in charge have grown louder and louder as the season has worn on. The lack of player development and the team’s inability to finish in close games will forever mark Collins as the scapegoat in a tough stretch of seasons.
To be fair to Collins, it hasn’t been all bad. He recruited some of the highest-ranked prospects in school history. He led the team to numerous upsets of excellent Big Ten rivals. He also helmed Northwestern’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, where the Wildcats won their first-round game before losing to a star-studded Gonzaga team. He will forever hold a place in the Northwestern record books, even if that record will ultimately be deemed subpar.
The Wildcats have limped their way through their most recent seasons, never finishing anywhere close to .500 in Big Ten play. Early on in that stretch, Collins’ excuse for the team’s poor performance was its inexperience. A team can only be young for so long though, and Northwestern fans have now become more than accustomed to hearing about the “growing pains” of the past four seasons. What was once a team full of promise is looking more and more like a team of missed opportunity. The younger talent is there, however, and the core group will get one more shot at bringing the whole act together next season.
Northwestern basketball may be nearing the end of the Chris Collins era. It has featured some great moments, as well as a whole bunch of bad ones. If nothing else, the nostalgia makes these final games worth the watch. Brighter days are ahead, and you better be tuned in when they get here.