Coming off the most successful year in modern program history, the Northwestern Wildcats enter the 2017-2018 season with high expectations but without the pressure of having never made the NCAA tournament. I know a big question on many fans minds will be “can Northwestern make it back to the tournament again?” In fairness to the Wildcats, I think it is time to bury that storyline and treat this team like any other fringy-top 25 team. The Wildcats have enough talent to expect another tournament appearance. With that said, let’s get into the three biggest questions facing Northwestern Basketball this year.
Will Scottie Lindsey find his ceiling?
Lindsey, a 6-5 senior, broke out in a big way last year, becoming arguably the Wildcats highest ceiling player. He averaged 14.1 points per game with some impressive performances early in the year. Lindsey was a big part of Northwestern’s 7-2 start in the Big Ten, but came down with mono in advance of Northwestern’s loss to Purdue. Though he missed only four games, it was clear the illness nagged him deeper into league play. The uber-athletic Lindsey should be one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Can Bryant McIntosh become a more efficient player?
Point Guard Bryant McIntosh enters the season as one of the most experienced players in the Big Ten. A three-year starter, McIntosh saw his efficiency dip last year as he took almost 14 shots per game. His 3-point field goal percentage fell from 36% in his freshman and sophomore years to 30% last year. Northwestern’s impressive depth, especially the return of stretch-4 sharpshooter Aaron Falzon, should allow McIntosh to be more discerning in his shot selection this year, and increased efficiency could allow McIntosh to challenge for a first-team all-Big Ten selection.
Will fans and students make the trek to Rosemont?
While Evanston’s Welsh-Ryan arena undergoes a total overhaul, the Wildcats will play their home games 14 miles away in Rosemont, Illinois at the Allstate Arena. Conventional wisdom suggests that fan support for Northwestern basketball will be at the all-time high. Fan presence was impressive for the Wildcats first two NCAA tournament games in Salt Lake City, Utah last spring. That said, Northwestern draws from an alumni base that is smaller than any other Big Ten program, and despite marketing claims to the contrary, most Chicagoans couldn’t care less about regular season Northwestern basketball and football games.
Case in point- last year on December 17th Northwestern took on (and beat) a very solid Dayton program as part of a doubleheader with the Illinois Fighting Illini at the United Center. The win arguably put the Wildcats back into the NCAA tournament conversation after tough losses to Butler and Notre Dame. Northwestern fans, however, were significantly outnumbered by Dayton fans. This is anecdotal, but I have followed Northwestern basketball casually for a number of years, and have serious reservations about the willingness of fans or students, even coming off of a historic year, to commute an hour to watch their team play once or twice a week. A far more likely scenario is that once again, Northwestern fans will be outnumbered by their opposition any time a major Big Ten program comes to town.
Northwestern’s expectations for basketball have never been higher. While the players have are achieved Northwestern immortality by being the first group to earn an NCAA tournament birth and showing well once they got there, they actually have a fair amount to lose. With the entire University placing a higher priority on athletics than ever before, signified by an unprecedented infrastructure build-up, and the Football team under-performing thus far, there is a lot riding on this season for the Wildcats program.