Chris Collins and his Northwestern Wildcats are looking to get out of the cellar for the 2019-20 season.
The 2018-19 Wildcats struggled from the start and managed a paltry 13-19 overall record and 4-16 in Big Ten play.
If the Wildcats are going to get back to competing for NCAA Tournament bids they are going to need to have some young players grow up quickly. They are also going to need to win on the road. The Wildcats were just 1-9 on the road in Big Ten play.
Let’s take a look at Northwestern’s schedule this season to see the important games on their slate.
Holiday Season Tournament
The Wildcats will play in the Fort Myers Tip-Off on November 25-27. The tournament is only four teams, Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, and Bradley, and Northwestern drew the in-state rival Braves in the first match up. If they are to win that match up (not a guarantee, Bradley could be pretty good this year) a game against Bruce Weber’s Kansas State awaits. The Kansas St. Wildcats project to be a bit down this season according to T-Rank, but still are a top-40 team. Expect a rock fight as both teams project to be top-30 defensive teams. A surprise win here could mean positive momentum for the young Wildcats moving forward.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
The Wildcats travel to Boston College for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday, December 3rd. T-Rank projects the Eagles to be one of the worst teams in the ACC next season, so the opportunity is there for a nice Power-5 road win. Northwestern will be looking to build on their 67-61 win last season against Georgia Tech.
Northwestern is participating in the latest iteration of the Gavitt Games by hosting the Providence Friars on November 13th. The Friars had their five-year NCAA Tournament run snapped last season, and look to be right on the bubble again this season. Alpha Diallo will be a handful for the Wildcats, but here’s another opportunity to pick up a decent win early in the season.
Sneaky Tough Mid-Major Game
To be frank about the Wildcats this season, there are going to be a few games against mid-major opponents that are going to be more than sneaky tough. Still, the Radford Highlanders could present some challenges for the Wildcats during their matchup on November 19th. The Highlanders project to be 20-10 this season and their top five projected scorers are all juniors and seniors. Radford shot nearly 40 percent as a team from three-point range last season as well. A young team like Northwestern needs to be careful with this type of game early on in the season.
Toughest Stretch Of Games
1/21 - vs. Maryland
1/26 - vs. Ohio State
1/29 - at Michigan State
2/1 - vs. Purdue
Late January could be brutal for the Wildcats. Northwestern faces off against the projected top-four teams in the conference all in a row. The silver lining in this stretch is they do get three out of four of these games at home. Any wins during this stretch should meet expectations.
Best Chance For An Upset
2/12 - vs. Michigan
The Wolverines will be a fringe top-25 team this season and they will roll into Evanston on February 12th trying to avoid a letdown against the Wildcats. Michigan’s sometimes slower pace could turn this game into a rock fight, which is what Northwestern prefers. T-Rank currently puts this game as a 66-62 Michigan victory, so there is a manageable chance that Northwestern could pull off the upset.
It could be a long year for the Wildcats against this season. They enter the 2019-20 campaign as one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten. There are some opportunities for early, confidence-building victories in the non-conference slate. However, there are also chances for losses against decent mid-major competition (Radford and Bradley).
Big Ten play gets tough in late January/early February. There are some nice chances for home upsets over some of the top teams of the conference, but the reality is Northwestern is going to need to grow up rather quickly to improve on a disappointing and long season last year.