With Northwestern basketball under two weeks away, it’s time to start addressing the most important issues facing this team and the questions it must answer as it hopes to progress toward the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament. We’ll call this segment the “Eight Questions of Fate,” as the answers to these questions will likely determine how close Northwestern gets to that goal. Northwestern has to find a way to score this year. Who will that responsibility fall on most? We discuss:
Zach Pereles: Bryant McIntosh
The man who is going to play the most minutes for this team and have the ball in his hands the most is the man who will lead this team in scoring. McIntosh increased his scoring between his freshman and sophomore campaigns by over two points per game even though he shot a similar percentage from the floor. I think the return of Vic Law, development of Scottie Lindsey and loss of Tre Demps will help McIntosh score more, too. Lindsey and Law can space the floor, giving McIntosh opportunities to drive and kick (one of his best skills) but also drive to score at the basket. He’s another year bigger and stronger, and he’s going to be on the court all the time. I think he’ll score 16 or 17 a game with Law, Lindsey, Aaron Falzon and Dererk Pardon also averaging double digits.
Josh Rosenblat: Bryant McIntosh
This won’t be close, I don’t think. Almost all of Northwestern’s offensive sets involve an option for McIntosh to call a pick-and-roll, his bread and butter. Also, his already high usage rate projects to grow even higher without Tre Demps next to him on the perimeter. A little uptick in his three-point shooting efficiency would probably raise his per-game average to near 15. But the area where he has the most room to grow is actually around the rim. The point guard shot just 54 percent at the rim last season, according to Shot Analytics. Another offseason to grow stronger should help him become a stronger finisher in traffic.
Caleb Friedman: Bryant McIntosh
In my mind, the only candidate to challenge McIntosh for the team’s scoring crown is Vic Law. The thing about Law is that he won’t necessarily need to score to impact the game, whereas McIntosh probably will. That isn’t to say the Wildcats don’t need Law to score — they do. But Law will have to take on difficult defensive assignments and rebound, which could take away from his scoring output. McIntosh has said he wants to be better defensively this season, but his real value for this team clearly lies on the offensive end. Chris Collins understands this, and knows his junior captain will have to score more for this team to win. With more mobile bigs this season, McIntosh should have more room operate in the middle of floor, which should lead to more free throw attempts and easy baskets.
Isaac Bushnell: Bryant McIntosh
Every possible line of thought about this question should lead to the same answer. The junior point guard is the team’s undisputed leader, its best shot creator and shooter, and he will consistently have the ball in his hands far more than anyone else in this offense. Additionally, the isolation looks and bailout shots that were allocated to Demps last year will almost all fall to McIntosh this time around, and without Olah as a proven scorer off the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop, he will be asked to be far more aggressive driving and scoring the basketball in those scenarios. He is in a position where, even if he is to suffer through an inefficient shooting year, he will still end up leading this team in scoring by a considerable margin.
Chris Grismer: Aaron Falzon
With Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law attracting so much attention, players like Falzon and Scottie Lindsey will have to knock down open looks. Entering his second season, Falzon is primed to take the next step as an offensive weapon. He won’t be tasked with a ton of on-ball action, but Falzon’s shooting prowess can be utilized in pick-and-rolls and on cuts. McIntosh is an excellent passer, so he’ll be able to find Falzon spotting up behind the arc when he runs pick-and-rolls with Dererk Pardon. Falzon can also use this opportunity to beat his man backdoor for easy layups and offensive rebound opportunities. In other situations, he might even set a pick on McIntosh’s man and pop out, forcing the defense to choose between stopping McIntosh from getting to the basket or giving Falzon an open shot on the perimeter. It’s going to be a team effort to put points on the board, and Falzon’s got the upward trajectory to lead the team in scoring.
Josh Burton: Bryant McIntosh
This is the boring answer, but it’s the right one. McIntosh is going to have the ball in his hands for the vast majority of games, and considering how the Wildcats aren’t overflowing with top-notch scorers right now without Demps and Olah, they’re going to need their point guard to make plays. A lot of Northwestern possessions will use up most of the shot clock and, since McIntosh is the team’s primary ball-handler, he’ll get far and away the most shot attempts of any Wildcat. Also, he’s just the team’s best player, period.
Rob Schaefer: Bryant McIntosh
I don’t feel bad going with the obvious choice here because there truly is no other answer. With Tre Demps and Alex Olah gone, McIntosh is going to shoulder pretty much the entirety of the ball-handling and facilitating responsibilities for this team; he’s by far their most effective creator, as well. Expect a dip in efficiency but a bump in scoring this year for BMac.
Martin Oppegaard: Bryant McIntosh
Will Ragatz: Dererk Pardon
All signs point to Bryant McIntosh leading this team in scoring, but hear me out. I think Pardon is going to take a big step forward in his sophomore season and become not only an excellent starting center for Northwestern, but the team’s leading scorer. The ability is there; we all saw it when he exploded for 28 points against Nebraska. Sure, he only scored in double-digits two more times, but I think that changes in a big way this year. With a full offseason of getting stronger, developing his post game, and generally preparing to be a starter, I think Pardon will surprise a lot of people this year. He can score in a variety of ways: on post-ups, in transition, on the offensive glass, etc. I can see Pardon averaging 14-15 points per game this season and just surpassing McIntosh, who will frequently be distributing the ball to Pardon, Law, Lindsey and Falzon in what will hopefully be a relatively balanced offense.