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2018-’19 Northwestern Wildcats Basketball Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Northwestern Wildcats and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2018-’19 season.

NCAA Basketball: Selection Sunday-Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-’19 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the upcoming season with analysis on each program’s previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team’s starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local “insider” who covers said team.

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Northwestern is a team that has been all over the place in recent years. Chris Collins took over the program in March of 2013, built his team up with stellar recruiting classes for a few years, punched a ticket in to the NCAA Tournament in March of 2017, and then last season, was well, not how most people predicted it would go.

The 2016-’17 was not expected to make the NCAA Tournament in the preseason. Most thought they were an NIT team and thought when Scottie Lindsey, Bryant McIntosh, Gavin Skelly, and Vic Law were seniors, they would make it together.

Last season, they lost their home court, their home court advantage, some team chemistry, and momentum. They went from Preseason AP Top 25 to not even making a postseason tournament.

Northwestern has a lot of new faces on the team this year. There are also new members of the coaching staff, after Armon Gates departed for Florida and after a quick turn of events is now at Nebraska. A.J. Guyton, Northwetsern’s Director of Player Development, also departed for Loyola Maryland.

The coaching changes, along with the new roster additions, should help Northwestern significantly this season.

1. 2017-’18 Season Performance

  • Record: 15-17 (6-12)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #58
  • RPI Team Rating: 159
  • Postseason: None

Last season was not exactly what Wildcat fans expected to see. After being ranked in the AP Top 25 Preseason poll, the Wildcats quickly lost ground. Chemistry issues, an arena far away from Evanston, injuries, and unforeseen problems lead to Northwestern’s fall.

Last season, Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law all struggled to be consistent at the same time. McIntosh and Law both missed time with injuries, which changed the offense and defense.

Sanjay Lumpkin’s grit on the wing was lost and his place could not be replicated in the lineup no matter who started. Nathan Taphorn’s off-the-bench three point shooting could not be replicated. Gavin Skelly played the role of the energy guy, but when he started, that changed the dynamic of the team.

Dererk Pardon became one of the consistent bright spots of the season. When he was on the bench, Barret Benson struggled to stay consistent and often got beat easily at the basket.

Northwestern lost Rapolas Ivanauskas, who was supposed to be a bright spot on the wing, to another season-ending injury. Jordan Ash’s season also ended early with an injury. Isiah Brown struggled, saw his minutes regress, and ultimately decided to transfer at the end of the season.

While the 2016-’17 season is a season Northwestern fans want to remember, the 2017-’18 season is one they want to forget. Chris Collins mentioned at Big Ten Media day that the team has washed last season and is starting fresh.

In trying to justify what happened, there are a few answers to the question of what happened to this team that looked filled with potential in their first- ever March Madness appearance.

First, not being home and having a true home court advantage affected this team. AllState Arena is a great place to play, but it is far from Evanston. The game day routine every player got used to changed around. They also used a student gym as a practice facility. Their shooting schedules were affected based on availability and they didn’t have any true place to call “home”.

Collins also mentioned multiple times in post- game press conferences that the staff changed their offseason workout regimen and that affected the team. With only two departures, they didn’t go back to their normal workout schedule, and instead adjusted it because they believed the team was a veteran team and didn’t need this.

Whatever changed there affected them team chemistry and their rocky start to non-conference play, which spiraled in to conference play.

This recruiting class was Collins’ first, and it was tough to watch them go out the way that they did.

2. Offseason Exits

Heading in to the 2018-’19 season, Northwestern will be without their backcourt duo of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey. McIntosh was a four-year starter at point guard and the most critical part of the Northwestern offense. Simply put: the Wildcats looked like a different team without McIntosh on the court.

He was the Jack of All Trades- leading the team in assists, creating space for others to shoot, running towards the baseline for his signature floater, a steady player at the line. He was the glue that kept the Wildcats together. The two free throws he sank against Vanderbilt in the final seconds of the NCAA Tournament in 2017 will be ingrained in minds of Wildcat fans forever.

Bryant McIntosh Career Statistics:

  • 129 games played (127 starts)
  • 1,683 points
  • 700 assists (program high)
  • 78 steals
  • 271 free throws

Bryant McIntosh not only left his mark on Northwestern, but also in Big Ten history. He is the third player in Big Ten History to record at least 1,600 points and 675 assists in is career. In January against Minnesota, he broke a record. He had 16 assists and no turnovers- a first for any Division I player since 2005.

McIntosh broke in to the record books, but the mark he left on Northwestern is beyond the books. His ball-handling skills, passing skills, assists, and his presence on the court kept Northwestern together. He played heavy minutes from his freshman year and Chris Collins trusted him with the ball.

Scottie Lindsey also graduated in June and left his mark on Northwestern.

  • 126 games played (76 starts)
  • 1,270 points
  • 188 assists
  • 70 steals
  • 203 free throws

Scottie Lindsey came off the bench his first two seasons and then earned the starting role in the backcourt alongside Bryant McIntosh after Tre Demps graduated.

In his junior season, before getting sick, he was on his way to being a first team All Big Ten player. Scottie Lindsey was a dynamic scorer for Northwestern, making plays all around the floor. When Lindsey was shooting well, he was nearly impossible to guard. In his senior season, he lead the team in points per game, averaging just over 15. He was never afraid to shoot from deep and played well alongside Bryant McIntosh. Northwestern relied heavily on his shooting and when he played well, he created space on the floor for his teammates to take shots because of the way opposing teams had to defend him.

After Tre Demps graduated, many questions were asked about who would become a scorer like Demps was, and Scottie Lindsey stepped in to fill that role in the way it was needed.

Gavin Skelly is the final senior who departed in June.

  • 127 games played (21 starts)
  • 550 points
  • 108 assists
  • 52 steals
  • 187 free throws

Skelly was the “energy guy” at Northwestern for his first three seasons. He came off the bench, made aggressive plays in the paint, and even put his three-point shooting on display in his junior season.

Senior year, Skelly started 21 times in part due to Aaron Falzon’s injury, but also because Collins tried to make adjustments to his lineup as the Wildcats struggled. Skelly will be remembered for his aggressive playing in paint and his energy off the bench, which often gave this team a spark they needed.

With these exits and a new backcourt arriving at Northwestern this season, this team will look a lot different.

3. New Additions

Northwestern adds plenty of new faces to the roster this season, highlighted by transfer Ryan Taylor and first year Pete Nance. Including A.J. Turner, who transferred from Boston College and redshirted last season, Northwestern has six new players on their team. Half of the new players are named Ryan, which is a stellar stat for this new recruiting class.

Here is a look at the new players.

Ryan Taylor joins Northwestern after leading the Missouri Valley Conference with 21.3 points per game at the University of Evansville. He is listed as a guard, but he can also play well on the wing and is a dynamic scorer. He will be a difference- maker for this Northwestern offense and a key in their scoring.

Ryan Young, a center from Pennsylvania, will redshirt this year, as Dererk Pardon, who is in his senior season, and Barret Benson will split time at that position.

Ryan Greer was a late point guard addition to Northwestern’s class. He came from the same school as Aaron Falzon and graduated a year early to attend Northwestern. He’ll look to take some of the minutes that Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey had in games.

Miller Kopp is a forward out of Houston Texas, who will slot in along the wing with the core of talented players Northwestern has there. He chose Northwestern over Big Ten foe Michigan, and could be an impact player right away with the injury to Aaron Falzon.

A.J Turner spent last season redshirting, and he’s now eligible to play for his redshirt junior season. He transferred from Boston College and played with second year player Anthony Gaines in high school. At 6’ 7’’, Turner will a scoring threat on the wing and may even see time in the backcourt.

Finally, the most touted player in this recruiting class is Pete Nance. He picked Northwestern over Michigan and Ohio State. His dad is Larry Nance, and his brother, Larry Nance Jr., plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nance is not afraid to shoot the ball and was ranked the number 79 player on the ESPN Top 100 players list in the 2018 class. Nance will most likely be Vic Law’s successor, and he’ll come off the bench this year to play on the wings.

4. Points of Optimism

There are six new players on this team, five of whom will have the opportunity to play this year. This class is filled with players who scored the ball well in high school and college.

The mix to this class is particularly interesting, as there are two new transfers and four freshman. Ryan Taylor, a graduate transfer from Evansille, will impact the team right away with his proven aggressive scoring. Coming from the Missouri Valley, a tough league defensively, he’ll be able to mold right in to Northwestern on both sides of the ball.

This team now has a lot of length at all positions, which can create matchup problems for other teams. Pete Nance is 6’10’’, AJ Turner and Miller Kopp are 6’7’’, and Ryan Greer is a shifty guard that is 6’2’’. In previous years, Northwestern did not have this much length at all positions. This will cause matchup problems for other teams on both sides of the ball.

Every player on the team is proven scorer, so Northwestern will have strong bench, which they have not had consistently every season. In previous years, when starters went to the bench, Northwestern’s offense usually struggled to score. This year, any player that comes off the bench will be able to make an impact in the game.

We don’t really know what this team will look like, and that is a positive thing. With all the pieces Collins and his staff have, this team could end up in the upper half of the Big Ten at the end of the season.

Vic Law and Dererk Pardon have the veteran leadership to take this team as far as it will go. In their senior seasons, having taken Northwestern to their first NCAA Tournament in program history, they’ll take this team as far as it can go.

Northwestern has home court advantage for the first time since making the NCAA Tournament, and this will help them this year because last year they had no home court advantage at Allstate Arena. The new atmosphere and the fact that it will be back on campus will help them have a home court advantage in the Big Ten

5. Points of Concern

The biggest concern for Northwestern is filling the point guard spot. Bryant McIntosh led Northwestern for four years and had the ball in his hands from the first day he stepped on campus his first year. It looks as though the point guard spot will be by committee, and that could mean ball handling issues from time to time.

Team chemistry is also a concern this year. Last year, a veteran Northwestern team who went to the NCAA Tournament, didn’t have great chemistry on the court.

There will be a lot of growing pains with this Northwestern team. The team will have to re-design the offense to adapt to the new players and their scoring abilities. The team has a lot of new players and part of the challenge will be seeing how they all fit together. This year will have the most roster turnover since Collins arrived.

6. Top Player

This is a tough choice to make, given the seniors and experience on this team. Northwestern has veteran players who have proven themselves to be the tip of the team.

Vic Law is one of the best defenders in the Big Ten. His athleticism and ability to create shots and play off the ball makes a difference on this team. He consistently takes players out of games and opposing teams have a hard time guarding him. He’s a fifth year senior and possible Big Ten Defensive Player of The Year candidate.

On the other hand, Dererk Pardon has been consistent in the paint and has one of the best shooting percentages in the country. Northwestern’s offense is better when he’s a main factor in it. This year, it is possible that the offense will run through him. His shot blocking skills and movement in the paint gives other teams problems. Law can shoot from all over the floor. He can go inside out, shoot from deep, rebound in the paint even handle point guard duties.

Although both players could be seen as tied for best player on this team, this year, Vic Law is the top player. This team needs him on both ends of the floor and his ability to play multiple positions will be key for Northwestern this season, especially.

He was the first recruit of the Chris Collins er and set a standard for the type of player and caliber of player Chris Collins wants to have.

7. 2018-‘19 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/2 - McKendree (Exhibition)
  • 11/8 - New Orleans
  • 11/12 - American
  • 11/16 - Binghamtom
  • 11/22 - Fresno State @ Wooden Legacy
  • 11/23 - La Salle/ Miami @ Wooden Legacy
  • 11/23 - TBD @ Wooden Legacy
  • 11/28 - Georgia Tech
  • 12/1 - at Indiana
  • 12/4 - Michigan
  • 12/8 - DePaul
  • 12/17- Chicago State
  • 12/21 - Oklahoma
  • 12/30 - Columbia
  • 1/2 - at Michigan State
  • 1/6 - Illinois
  • 1/9 - Iowa
  • 1/13 - at Michigan
  • 1/18 - at Rutgers
  • 1/22 - Indiana
  • 1/26 - at Wisconsin
  • 1/29 - at Maryland
  • 2/4 - Penn State
  • 2/10 - at Iowa
  • 2/13 - vs Rutgers
  • 2/16 - at Nebraska
  • 2/20 - at Ohio State
  • 2/23 - Wisconsin
  • 2/28 - Minnesota
  • 3/3 - at Illinois
  • 3/6 - Ohio State
  • 3/9 - Purdue

Northwestern’s non-conference slate is relatively simple this year. A tough test against Oklahoma will come on December 21st when the Wildcats face the Trae Young-less Oklahoma Sooners. Last year, Northwestern did not have a match or solution to Trae Young even when they had him double- teamed. While Trae Young is in the NBA, many of the pieces around him that also created matchups shoes for Northwestern return. The Wooden Legacy will give Northwestern a good look at high mid-major teams that they should match up well against.

Northwestern will play Chicago rivalry games against DePaul and Chicago State again this year, with both coming at home. Last year, Northwestern cruised past Chicago State at Allstate, but barely beat DePaul, winning only by two points in the final minutes thanks to some missed free-throws by DePaul. With the Blue Demons coming home to Welsh- Ryan this year, the Wildcats will need to use their home court advantage to make sure DePaul does not win this game. A loss to DePaul would really hurt their post-season chances in the non-conference schedule.

While their non-conference schedule is not particularly strong, with the Big Ten moving to a 20 game slate, Northwestern will have some games they’ll need to win against ranked teams in Big Ten play in order to achieve the quadrant one wins to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern will face Illinois twice as part of the new protected rivalries that are officially in place. They also will play Michigan twice this year. The last time Michigan came to Welsh-Ryan Arena was March 1, 2017 when Northwestern won on a buzzer beater by Dererk Pardon in the final seconds of the game. The Michigan game always proves to be an exciting and close one. With the newcomers that John Beilein has on his team, it should be a great rivalry for the Wildcats and the Wolverines.

Michigan State is traditionally a tough matchup for Northwestern and the games are always exciting to watch. Last year at Northwestern was winning the game I as much as 20 points in the first half but lost the lead in the second half of the game Tom Izzo lost a lot of players to the NBA, but it should prove to be a exciting game to start off there January conference site with. Vic Law has played well there, so watch for him on the stat sheet.

Wisconsin is experiencing growth and change in the program but with Brad Davidson in his second year and Ethan Happ leading in the offense from the post, Northwestern could face trouble in Madison and when the Badgers come to Evanston.

Northwestern will play a Purdue team that has the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year in Carsen Edwards to close out the regular season. This will be a tough matchup for the Wildcats.

Northwestern has a winnable home games, but will need to work hard to protect their new home court advantage. Veteran leadership from Vic Law, Derek Pardon and Jordan Ash will be essential to the success of the Wildcats.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • G: Jordan Ash (Sr)
  • G/F: A.J Turner (RS Jr)
  • F: Vic Law (RS Sr)
  • F: Ryan Taylor (RS Sr)
  • C: Dererk Pardon (Sr)

It is safe to say that Northwestern doesn’t have one or two set go-to lineups, and the team may not all season. Chris Collins has mentioned that point guard will be by committee and he will adjust the starting lineup each night based on matchups and who is playing well. The only two players that will most-likely be locked in to the lineup are Vic Law and Dererk Pardon. The spots in the backcourt will change and be a competition based on who is playing well.

With no ball handler or official point guard, Northwestern will have to adjust the way the offense is set. Ryan Greer is a candidate, but he graduated from high school a year early and my not be able to take Bryant McIntosh’s 35 minutes per game right off the bat.

Aaron Falzon has had a Northwestern career plagued by injuries, and will miss the beginning of the season due to ankle injury. Ryan Taylor and AJ Turner will take the bulk of his minutes. Miller Kopp and Pete Nance could also be candidates to slot in there.

Dererk Pardon is a lock at center, and Barret Benson will come in to spell his minutes and fouls during games. Ryan Young, a first year center is expected to redshirt.

Northwestern is loaded on the wings, so it is possible that lineups may be four forwards and Pardon. With Turner, Law, Nance, and Taylor on the floor, Northwestern could really create matchup problems for opposing teams.

Jordan Ash is a pass first point guard, but he did break out of his shell and take some shots from deep last year before his season got cut short due to injury.

9. Team Perspective from Caleb Friedman of InsideNU

“Northwestern basketball loses point guard Bryant McIntosh from last season, who took a ton of shots and seemingly always had the ball in his hands offensively. The team will try to offset that loss by playing lineups without a true point guard, and replacing a pick-and-roll heavy offense with a lot of cutting and off-ball action. Dererk Pardon returns as one of the better centers in the Big Ten, and Vic Law is one of the better perimeter defenders in the conference.

There’s some uncertainty because there’s probably no starter-caliber point guard on the roster, but there are plenty of newcomers that will help out on the wing. Evansville transfer Ryan Taylor was one of the nation’s top scorer’s last season, and he should assume a high-volume role from the get-go. Boston College transfer A.J. Turner is now eligible after sitting out last season, and he should provide some playmaking and shooting. There are several talented freshmen, notably Pete Nance, a long and skilled big, and Miller Kopp, a rugged guard who can score inside and out.

The keys for NU will be playmaking -- who can fill the role of McIntosh there -- and shooting. If NU can get out in transition with its versatile, athletic lineups, it will score at a decent clip. If it gets bogged down in the half-court too often, the lack of a point guard will hurt.” - Caleb Friedman.

10. Overall Season Outlook

This Northwestern team is difficult to predict this year. It’s easy to recognize the types of talent and quality and quantity of talent that Northwestern is bringing in, but it’s difficult to predict just how well the pieces will fit together. As such, this team could head in a variety of different directions this season.

Chris Collins’ team looks like it will be a tough matchup defensively. However, on the offensive side especially without a true point guard on the roster this team could face difficulty with ball handling. Much like Justin Jackson was to the Northwestern football team, Bryant McIntosh will be a person that’s incredibly hard to replace for Northwestern. His ball handling skills could never be taken for granted and there is not another proven ball-handler like McIntosh on the roster.

This team will go as far as Dererk Pardon and Vic Law can take them. The post season is definitely possible and an NIT bid should be the goal but the NCAA Tournament is not out of the question. With Northwestern’s shooters, length and size, if they can score of the ball consistently on offense and stay the same consistency on the defensive end, Northwestern could have their second bid to the NCAA tournament in program history.

While the unofficial media poll from the Big Ten had them ranked in the lower half of the conference, there is no reason this Wildcat team cannot give opposing teams trouble and fight for a spot in the middle big tier of the Big Ten.

Collins and his staff have the pieces to get things done this season. It’s now time to see whether the Wildcats can get the job done.

Big Ten Prediction: 13th Place

(Please note: Final Big Ten predictions come from Thomas Beindit.)