The Northwestern Wildcats showed some promise this past season after winning five of six late in the Big Ten season. This sudden emergence partnered with a solid recruiting class has sparked hope that there might actually be some promise out of this team in 2015-2016. But before we pencil NU in as a middle of the pack contender, what are the big questions we need to ask this fall? Look no further.
1. Can Northwestern be a consistent team, night-to-night?
Yes, after impressive wins over Iowa, Indiana and Michigan, it was easy to say that Northwestern had more than they initially let on. What type of team loses ten straight only to go on a late season tear? Even while the Cats finished the season a measly 15-17, (6-12 in the B1G), five of their six conference wins came in the second half of their schedule. This proves problematic for the consistency of the NU program.
In order for the Wildcats to compete for any postseason play, be it NIT or NCAA tournament, they will need to come to play each night with the same tenacity. While it may not always be evident, head coach Chris Collins has already been improving this over the past two seasons. The ten straight losses are less than ok, but during that streak Northwestern did take Michigan State (a Final Four team by the way) to overtime as well as Michigan, Ohio State and #13 Maryland to the final buzzer. Be it not for a couple bad breaks, there's a good chance NU pulls off a couple of these upsets.
Look for a team with more identity this fall. With some of the upperclassmen finally coming into form (see Alex Olah), an added sense of urgency is thrown into the mix. Last year, the Wildcats failed to close many of their big games. This season, it'll be interesting to see if that has changed.
2. Can McIntosh continue his growth at point guard?
Let's be honest. If a Big Ten team (with the exception of Wisconsin) lands a white three-star point guard, there's never too much buzz. Bryant McIntosh was no exception. A little three-star recruit out of New Castle, IN, not many outside of the Northwestern program gave him much thought. That was until he won the starting job over vet Dave Sobolewski and proceeded to average 11.4 PPG and 4.7 APG over the course of the season. Now, entering his sophomore year, many have McIntosh listed as a top five point guard in the BIG TEN.
A big question that will need to be answered this coming season is will McIntosh be able to not only continue, but build upon his early success? As we have seen this past season and in years of the past, a solid point guard is imperative to compete at the next level. This past year's Final Four featured four elite PG's in Bronson Koenig, Travis Trice, Tyus Jones and Andrew Harrison, three of which are now in the NBA. While McIntosh may not have that type of potential, it's hard to understate his importance to this squad.
Much of the success of this team will hinge upon this man's ability to be a factor with and without the basketball. If he's able to up his assist numbers into the mid-five to six range, his game can reach a whole new level. The growth of Bryant McIntosh will be entertaining to watch this year.
3. How will the 'Cats fare in a stacked Big Ten conference?
It's no secret that the Big Ten is back, and better than ever. After 2014 preseason speculations that maybe the conference wasn't all that it's cracked up to be, two of it's teams landed in Indianapolis for the culmination of March Madness. Now it looks as if as many as six Big Ten programs will be ranked in the top 25 to start the basketball season. This is a catch 22 for Northwestern.
Assuming those six (Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Purdue) are all tournament bound, this will allow the Wildcats ample opportunity to go for some big wins. However, that also means there's potential to take a major beating. Last season, Northwestern failed to have a ranked win in four opportunities. Expect that to change this time around.
The obvious metric of success for this team will be their ability to withstand top competition. Grab a top 25 win or two and everything else is up for grabs. This may be the most important question that needs to be answered by the Wildcats in 2015-2015.
What are your thoughts? What questions do you think need to be answered by the Northwestern Wildcats this season? Comment down below.