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Northwestern basketball season predictions

Here’s how our staff thinks the Wildcats will do this year.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Pereles

Overall record: 16-15 (7-11 B1G)

Postseason: None

Wow, this is a depressing way to start. The Wildcats face a more difficult non-conference schedule than last year, including dates with Butler, Texas and Dayton. All three were NCAA Tournament teams last year. I also think the bottom of the Big Ten will be significantly improved. Illinois will challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid, Minnesota brings in a top-tier recruiting class and Penn State should take a step forward as well. Rutgers is... well... Rutgers. Overall, I think people underestimate how much the Wildcats will miss Tre Demps and Alex Olah while overestimating the progression of the returning contributors from last year. The Wildcats’ backcourt is extremely thin as is their center position. Any injury to Dererk Pardon or *gasp* Bryant McIntosh would be absolutely devastating. With no Tre Demps, there are no individual shot creators — the best one on the roster is freshman Isiah Brown. It’ll be a step backward from last season.

Josh Rosenblat

Overall record: 20-11 (9-9 B1G)

Postseason: None

It’ll happen again. Twenty regular season wins and a first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament will end Northwestern’s season without a postseason berth. The non-conference schedule is tougher, but super manageable. But let’s look at the Big Ten. The top of the conference is a bit down, the bottom is a bit up. But, I still think Northwestern will be a similar team to what it was last year: It beat the teams it was supposed to beat and lost to the ones it was supposed to lose to. I think that will largely hold true again this season. This team’s ceiling isn’t very high. And its floor isn’t very low. It’ll be a different team, sure. But not one that’s categorically better or worse than last season, despite the losses of Alex Olah and Tre Demps.

Will Ragatz

Overall record: 19-12 (8-10 B1G)

Postseason: NIT

Northwestern won’t quite get back to the 20-win plateau, but that’s more due to the tougher schedule than a step back in performance. I actually think this team will be slightly improved this season. First, I don’t think the two losses are necessarily big ones. Not having the notoriously inefficient Demps will force the Wildcats to have more balance offensively, and I’m high on Dererk Pardon’s progression in year two. Bryant McIntosh is one of the most underrated players in the conference and will be able to set up scorers like Scottie Lindsey, Aaron Falzon and Isiah Brown for open looks. Now, this young team will definitely experience growing pains. There will be struggles on the glass and on defense in conference play. I think Northwestern loses to Butler and Texas in the non-conference portion of its schedule and again fails to pick up many (if any) wins against the tougher teams in the Big Ten.

Sam Brief

Overall record: 18-13 (6-12 B1G)

Postseason: None

There are some things I really like about this year’s team. I expect Bryant McIntosh to take a leap into the elite Big Ten point guard category, Vic Law to return to form after missing last season, Aaron Falzon to establish himself as a top-tier sharpshooter and Isiah Brown to back up McIntosh effectively. However, there’s no ignoring the gaping holes in this team. Depth behind an undersized Dererk Pardon will hurt Pardon and the entire frontcourt in conference play, and the bench as a whole just isn’t good enough to keep up in conference play. I like Scottie Lindsey’s shooting ability, but his defensive struggles will continue to hurt Northwestern. It’s difficult to lose your two senior leaders — Tre Demps and Alex Olah — and get better. Northwestern shows flashes of excellence but just misses out on postseason play.

Henrique DaMour

Overall Record: 17-14 (7-11 B1G)

Postseason: None

Bryant McIntosh is the guy this year, there’s very little doubt about that. But his ex-counterpart in the shooting guard position Tre Demps left some big shoes to fill. Between Jordan Ash and Scottie Lindsey, the position will be lacking what it had last year, but won’t be the team’s biggest weakness. That will come defensively. Replacing Olah’s seven-foot frame, blocking ability, and slightly above-average physicality will most likely fall to Derek Pardon, but he’s just not there yet this year to be able to compete with the B1G’s more physical frontcourts. With the Big Ten as a whole looking like it’s taking a step back as a conference, a middle-of-the-pack finish probably be enough to even make the NIT. Those spots will go to Michigan, Nebraska, maybe OSU, and maybe even Maryland if Melo Trimble doesn’t improve. Northwestern will definitely have to finish in the top six in the conference with an over .500 conference winning percentage to definitively lock up an NIT berth.

Caleb Friedman

Overall Record: 18-13 (7-11 B1G)

Postseason: None

I think this year’s basketball team actually fares similarly to this year’s football team: several areas of the team will be improved, but the team’s record will be worse because of a tougher schedule. The team will have trouble scoring in the half court offense, and there really isn’t anyone on the team who can bail the offense out at the end of the shot clock. But, I think Isiah Brown could be that guy, just maybe not this year. I’m also worried about the team’s ability to defend. Vic Law figures to be the only plus defender on the team, so the team will have trouble containing most of the good teams on the schedule. Northwestern will pull or two upsets in conference play, but it will also lose some games against some of the lower-tier teams in the conference. The bad losses will keep the Wildcats out of postseason play.

Ian McCafferty

Overall Record: 18-13 (8-10 B1G)

Postseason: None

The 2016-17 Wildcats will have a season very similar to the 2015-16 Wildcats. The team is good enough and the schedule is bad enough for Northwestern to be 10-2 or 9-3 going into conference play, but unless it can get wins over Dayton or Texas, it won’t really mean anything. The schedule is set up for a decent amount of wins, (they play Rutgers twice!) but none of them could be good. If Northwestern wants postseason play it’ll need to win all of those games while also upsetting a couple of teams like Purdue or Indiana. I don’t see enough of those happening for the team to make the NCAA Tournament and even the NIT is a stretch at this point. It’ll be a fun season, but no postseason yet again.

Josh Burton

Overall record: 18-13 (8-10 B1G)

Postseason: NIT

I’m fairly optimistic on this year’s team because there are a lot of talented pieces with something to prove. Bryant McIntosh is Northwestern’s most reliable and valuable player, but guys like Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, Dererk Pardon and Aaron Falzon, along with others, should be able to contribute effectively on both ends of the floor. The big question for the Wildcats is if McIntosh can handle being the leader scorer for this team or not, since he doesn’t have Tre Demps or Alex Olah to rely on. If McIntosh can’t lead this group, then the season could take a dark turn early on.

Chris Grismer

Overall record: 17-14 (7-11 B1G)

Postseason: None

Watching Northwestern’s young nucleus grow this season should be exciting, but that won’t necessarily result in an impressive record. The Wildcats’ non-conference schedule features tough opponents such as Butler, Dayton and Texas, but the team has enough talent to reel off wins against the rest of its opponents. Once conference play begins, though, Northwestern’s growing pains will begin to show. Surrounded by a green supporting cast, junior Bryant McIntosh will have to carry the offense, building off of his record-setting season last year and setting up teammates. Listed at a generous 6-foot-8, sophomore Dererk Pardon is the team’s only reliable option at center, and the onus will be on him to anchor the defense. Overall, the Wildcats will almost certainly take a step back from last year’s 20-win season, but with youth comes promise, and this team has a lot to look forward to next year. (Too bad they’ll be playing at Allstate Arena.)

Isaac Bushnell

Overall Record: 19-12 (9-9 B1G)

Postseason: None

I think this year’s team will actually be a slightly better basketball team than last year’s was. McIntosh will prove himself to be a truly elite Big 10 guard, Vic Law will emerge as the team’s leader and second best player by the season’s end, Dererk Pardon will continue his trajectory of growth and establish himself as a high caliber starting center on both ends of the floor, and the team overall will receive significantly more bench production than it did last year. However, with significantly more losable games on the non-conference schedule this year, I do not think the team will reach the level needed to win enough big games that it will push them into post-season contention. The biggest potential wins that I see are at home against Iowa and Michigan or away at Butler in the beginning of the year, and I don’t see that as being enough to sway the NIT selection committee to put this team in their tournament.