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Northwestern Wildcats: A Tale of Two Teams

The Wildcats seem to be hot and cold.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It looked like it was going to be another long night for the fans up in Evanston at the beginning of this one. Bradley started on a 6-0 run which prompted Chris Collins to call a timeout before anybody had even broken a sweat.

Whatever he said in that huddle should be played on repeat the rest of the year because it ignited a fire, helping Northwestern beat Bradley by a score of 78 to 51 on Monday night. The game-opening run by the Braves and then response from the Wildcats displays just how inconsistent Northwestern has been so far this year. Luckily for Collins, they were on the good side of the continuum against Bradley. Northwestern has some of the talent to hang with the best if they’re playing well. On the other hand, when things aren’t clicking, they lose to Merrimack.

The Wildcats displayed some really tough defense, holding the Braves to 33% from the floor. They also kept Bradley’s best players in check throughout the game. Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs are the veteran leaders for Bradley, as well as their leading scorers. Northwestern was able to hold the duo to 13 points and 14 points, respectively. While these outputs were right around their season averages, not allowing them to explode for 20+ is what kept the Braves at a season-low 51 points.

Also encouraging for Northwestern fans is that fact that they won the rebound battle 36 to 22. Rebounding has been an issue for Northwestern dating back to when Bill Carmody was pacing the sideline. However, with some size on the frontline and tough guards in Anthony Gaines and Pat Spencer, this Wildcats team shouldn’t be bullied on the boards like in years past.

The offensive explosion from Pat Spencer was a welcome addition for Collins. The grad transfer former lacrosse player had 28 points and 8 assists on 9/12 shooting, including making all three of his three-point attempts. Spencer has struggled to find his shot thus far but he looks to be playing in rhythm. The biggest thing that he’s displayed is the veteran leadership that can be so crucial for a young team like this. His “you can’t stop me” attitude has translated from the turf to the court and Collins is probably hoping that borderline-cockiness can rub off on some of the other young talent on this roster.

While it’s always nice to win a game against a quality opponent, the 2019-20 season is all about development for the Wildcats. That’s why it was so nice to see Ryan Young and Miller Kopp quietly and efficiently add to the stat sheet, scoring 13 points apiece. Kopp played almost perfect basketball in the first half as 11 of his points came before the break, on 4/4 shooting from the field.

Meanwhile, Young had 7 rebounds to go along with his 13 points on 5/7 shooting. Pete Nance struggled to see his shot fall for most of the game but he still was able to put up 7 points and 7 rebounds. Nance also displayed his versatility and athleticism by blocking 3 shots. It’s important for some of these young pieces, beyond just Nance, to step up and show that they’re able to compete at a high level. Young and Kopp are proving to be reliable secondary and tertiary options for the Wildcats.

With the win, Northwestern faces Pittsburgh on Wednesday night to determine the champion of the Ft. Myers Tip-Off. This will be a match-up between two disciples of Coach K in Collins and Jeff Capel, who were both on Duke’s staff from 2011-13. This is the first time Collins will face a former Blue Devil colleague. The game will be at 8:30 PM ET and can be viewed on FS1.