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It’s Time To Take Notice: This Northwestern Team is Different

While the Wildcats may be lead by a veteran point guard in Bryant McIntosh and a fifth-year senior in Sanjay Lumpkin, this Northwestern team is different than the ones that have come before it.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS— It’s Sunday, January 28th 2017 at 4:30 pm. As you drive through Northwestern’s campus along Sheridan Road, there are groups of students decked out in purple gathered every few hundred feet.

What are they doing?

They’re waiting for the shuttle to take them to Welsh-Ryan Arena. Indiana is in town. It’s a 5:30 tip, but a sold out crowd. Students have to get there early to get a seat in the student section.

This Northwestern is different.

Four years ago, the crowds didn’t play much of a factor. The student sections would fill up for the most part, but students would leave midway through. Now, opposing coaches are talking about the home court advantage Northwestern has in Welsh- Ryan.

When Chris Collins took this job four years ago, he envisioned nights like this Indiana game. He envisioned a home court advantage. He envisioned a sold out Welsh-Ryan Arena filled with fans and students cheering the Wildcats on.

Chris Collins has waited patiently for the crowds to come. After Iowa, he felt it.

“When I took this thing over four years ago and you walk in Welsh-Ryan and it’s dark, and all of us are kind of dreamers at heart,” Collins said. “You close your eyes and you envision a night like tonight.”

Fans came for the Iowa came, they came back for Nebraska and Indiana. You can bet they’ll be there the remainder of the season. Northwestern’s season finale against Purdue is already sold out. It costs more to attend a game in Welsh- Ryan than it does to see the Chicago Bulls play at the United Center.

This Northwestern is different.

Northwestern has climbed back in to the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since the 2009- 2010 season. Chris Collins and Bryant McIntosh are making appearances on SportsCenter. National media is starting to attend games and cover the team. This Northwestern team is no longer flying under-the-radar. They’re winning games and having fun on the court while doing so.

This Northwestern is different.

Chris Collins has changed the culture of Northwestern basketball. He’s recruited athletic, versatile players who can play all over the floor. It started with his first recruiting class. The four-player class that stepped on campus in the fall of 2014 has embraced Collins and bought in to the program. He and his staff have put together a sound defense that is one of the best in the nation. They’re not just defending, they’re defending on a high-level and taking opposing offenses out of their normal in-game sets.

Scottie Lindsey is Northwestern’s leading scorer. He’s averaging 15.4 points per game on 45% shooting. Vic Law is right behind him scoring 14 points per game, followed by Bryant McIntosh who averages 12.8. With McIntosh at the point and two athletic wings in Lindsey and Law, McIntosh is averaging 5.7 assists per game. He is well on his way to becoming the all-time assist leader at Northwestern. He’s tallied 488 career-assists as of February 1st, 2017. If he keeps on pace with his average number of assists per game through the remainder of the season, he will pass Michael “Juice” Thompson’s record of 528 before the end of the season.

This Northwestern is different.

Northwestern wasn’t projected to make the NCAA Tournament this year in the preseason. Making the NIT was thought to the be the stepping stone the Wildcats were going to take. Tre Demps and Alex Olah graduated, and there were concerns about where the scoring would come from. Now, with a 7-2 record through nine conference games and non-conference wins against Wake Forest and Dayton, they’re in every major March Madness bracketology projection.

Barring a complete collapse in the remaining nine games of conference play, Northwestern will most likely punch their first ticket to The Big Dance in program history.

The players know there’s a lot of season left to play and two ways it will end. After the Indiana game, Bryant McIntosh spoke with the media about it.

“We’ll either do something different and special, or we’ll be like every other Northwestern team,” said McIntosh.

This Northwestern is different.

It’s fitting that at the end of this season, Welsh-Ryan will close for a year to undergo a complete renovation. The Wildcats are breaking record books in a building where coaches and players worked tirelessly year after year to take Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament. Before they worked in Welsh-Ryan, they worked in Patten Gymnasium, the gym where they last won six conference games. That happened in the 1943- 1944 season.

Northwestern is off to its best start in league play ever.

This Northwestern is different.

Although they share the same floor, building, locker room, and wooden bleacher seats, this Northwestern team isn’t the same as the ones that came before it.

This Northwestern is different.