Season Recap: Men’s Basketball
By Sriman Narayanan
Overall Record: 9-15
Home Record: 7-6
Away Record: 2-8
Leading Scorer: Chase Audige (12.3 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Pete Nance (6.8 RPG)
Most Minutes: Miller Kopp (756)
2020 was weird for college hoops. The season was significantly shorter than usual, and we saw more postponements and cancellations than most of us had witnessed in our lifetimes. But perhaps most importantly for Wildcat fans, Northwestern men’s basketball ended the calendar year ranked No. 19 in the country.
Ah, what a time it was. The ‘Cats were coming fresh off two non-conference beatdowns against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Chicago State when they played a game that will go down as a vintage example of the patented Chris Collins collapse. Northwestern had an eight-point lead over Pitt with just under four minutes to play, but holding on proved to be too much, and the team earned its first loss of the year. But hang their heads they did not, as the squad returned to Welsh-Ryan Arena a week later to trounce Quincy 100-48.
It was all in lead-up to the first Big Ten matchup of the year for Northwestern, however, as fourth-ranked Michigan State was slated to come to Evanston and serve up what many assumed would be a colossal beat down. But what sports writers and analysts seemed to had forgotten was the inexplicable case of “Michigan State Boo Buie,” a rare phenomenon in which Buie, specifically when he’s playing the Spartans, goes absolutely ballistic. Buie knocked down five of six three-pointers en route to his highest output of the season: 30 points.
The game put the ‘Cats on the radar, and after wins over powerhouse Indiana and No. 23 Ohio State, Chris Collins’ squad crossed back into the AP Top 25, a mark they hadn’t reached since 2017-18.
Then came the true meat of their schedule. The Big Ten was incredibly competitive in 2020-21, of course, and the ‘Cats found out quickly enough, as their next six opponents were all ranked. They dropped all six.
There were bright spots, like in NU’s battle against Iowa, where Pete Nance, Ryan Young and Robbie Beran managed to hold National Player of the Year Luka Garza to just 18 points. The at-the-time No. 10 Hawkeyes had hoopers all around the court, though, and the ‘Cats dropped the first of their two Hawkeye matchups by double digits.
They carried the double-digit losses through that six-game spread as well, not closing the gap until a 78-81 loss to Penn State Jan. 23. It would be another month before they would scratch a check in the win column again, which finally came against Minnesota Feb. 25, snapping the streak of 13 straight losses, the worst of any skid in the Collins era.
The one win appeared to be all they needed, however. Back-to-back wins in the final two games of the regular season over Maryland and Nebraska put the ‘Cats at the third position from the bottom of the Big Ten, over the two teams they beat and Minnesota.
Minnesota ended any hope of a Cinderella run in the very first round of the Big Ten tournament, winning a defensive battle 51-48 to finish the ‘Cats’ unorthodox season.
MVP: Chase Audige
This one was a toughie, but ultimately, Audige’s offensive output gets him the nod here over Miller Kopp. Kopp spent much of last year and the year prior as the top dog, but the transfer from William & Mary stepped in and removed much of Kopp’s load off of his massive shoulders. Audige was a certified bucket from just about everywhere on the court, shooting 34% from three and 40% from the field. He also tallied a solid 44 assists on the year, good for second on the team. But Audige’s main strength came in his unpredictability as a player, as his shot-making ability was simply unmatched. When Audige got going, no one was going to stop him. His skill in rising over defenders and pulling up off the dribble separated him from his teammates and made him the focus of opposing teams’ defenses.
Key Contributors: Miller Kopp & Pete Nance
Wildcat fans will miss Kopp, as the junior announced his decision to transfer to Indiana after the end of last season. But what a ride it was for him, bookended by more of the reliability Kopp has been known to display. Kopp’s three-point shooting ability made him a threat outside the arc as usual, but the 6’7″ forward made his presence felt inside as well, often guarding opposing teams’ big men when NU went small and holding his own in the process.
Pete Nance was the resident shot-blocker for the ‘Cats. The junior tallied 17 blocks across 24 games, all of which he started. Nance also developed his jump shot as the season progressed, killing sagging defenders with 24 makes from the three on 36.5% shooting. Nance’s ability to pull up from behind the arc opened up the court for the ‘Cats, and he was able to find cutting teammates when it mattered, good for the third-most assists on the roster with 42.
First-Year Star: Ty Berry
First-year players are supposed to be a little shaky in their first season playing Big Ten basketball. They’re not supposed to play with swagger. They’re supposed to fit into the offense and be quiet.
Not Ty Berry.
One of the most exciting players on the team, Berry filled in as a reliable shot-maker for NU, averaging the most points of any player to not start a game. His ability to make defenders buckle gave the men’s basketball Instagram and Twitter pages quite a bit of content to post and his signature three-fingered celebration became must-watch television for Wildcat fans. Defensively, Berry made his presence felt as well, pulling in 18 steals for the third most on the team, on an average of just 14 minutes a game.
With Kopp’s departure, look to see Berry step up and help the upperclassmen lead the Wildcats to what will hopefully be a better conference showing in 2021-22.