It’s been quite the year for Northwestern athletics. With the football team in New York for the Pinstripe Bowl and both men’s and women’s basketball teams off to strong starts, there’s a lot to celebrate.
But with the turn of the year approaching, there’s also a lot to wish for going forward. Here’s what our staffers are hoping for in the new year.
Zach Pereles: A healthy Dererk Pardon
I’m guessing a common item on this list will be a berth in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ll be more specific. Because Pardon has been out most of this winning streak, people have forgotten just how good he can be. He’s efficient around the rim, the team’s best rebounder and the team’s best true center. His Legends Classic performances — 10 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks against an athletic Texas team followed by 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks against Notre Dame — were a big part of why Northwestern played so well in Brooklyn.
But his return from a hand injury means so much more than just the numbers. This teams needs him for depth purposes. With his return, Collins can go rebound-heavy with Pardon and Gavin Skelly or space the floor while still getting boards with Pardon and Nathan Taphorn. Plus, once Pardon returns, he’ll have a much more experienced Barret Benson behind him, too. The Wildcats need his size, length and athleticism against Big Ten competition. Get healthy, Dererk!
Martin Oppegaard: Big Ten Championships, in every sport
Life is about setting the bar high, but I would happily settle for a Pinstripe Bowl victory, an NCAA Tournament berth for both basketball teams, and more success on the recruiting trails for Coach Fitzgerald and Coach Collins.
In all seriousness, sustained success will increase national relevance for Northwestern. The Chicagoland and national media will have no choice but to take notice, and more fans and students will ultimately come to games. College sports reward programs that win. I wish for Northwestern to win more, and then keep winning.
And happy holidays Mr. Phillips! Hope you’re enjoying time with friends and family.
Caleb Friedman: Improved shooting from Bryant McIntosh
McIntosh has been aggressive this season, but he hasn’t been efficient. The junior captain is shooting just 36 percent from the floor this season, and just 25.9 percent from three-point range. To put those percentages in perspective, McIntosh shot 42.3 percent from floor and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. He has had good games — he almost single-handedly saved the Wildcats against Wake Forest — but that kind of performance has been far from the norm.
McIntosh doesn’t need to take over like that every game, but he needs to bump his three-point percentage up to the mid- to high-30s if Northwestern wants to compete in the top half of the Big Ten. Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey have played well, but the offense runs through McIntosh, especially at the end of games. B-Mac’s numbers dipped in conference play last season, but with Northwestern knocking on the door of its first ever NCAA Tournament, McIntosh will have to reverse that trend if the Wildcats want to go dancing in March.
Chris Grismer: More threes from Sanjay Lumpkin
If the men’s basketball team wants to make program history and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, it will need all the wins it can get. In the past two seasons, one player’s proficiency from deep has proven to be the key to Northwestern’s success: Sanjay Lumpkin.
In the 2015/16 campaign, the Wildcats were 11-0 in games in which Lumpkin made at least one three-pointer. This year, the team is 6-0 in those games. He takes fewer than two three-pointers per game, but shoots a robust 36.8 percent from that distance. If Northwestern wants to keep winning, it needs Lumpkin to fire away.
If he makes one, it’s a guaranteed win. Duh.
Isaac Bushnell: A haircut for Gavin Skelly
I know, right? How unselfish of me to think of others rather than myself during the holiday season. Despite it being the season of giving, I think the whole world would benefit from a barber taking away Skelly’s flowing locks.
The mop on the Wildcats’ junior forward has transitioned past the stage of chill California surfer that it was in during pre-season, and has now gone fully into early-‘90s WNBA player territory. Despite the additional ability that the new mop seems to have given Skelly (he has gone from averaging 3 points per game a season ago to being a top-50 offensive player in the country per KenPom), it will soon reach a point where it may well be preferable to see him shoot 0 percent from the field rather than have to watch that sweaty thing on top of his head bounce up and down the floor. I won’t pretend to be a bracketology expert, but I cannot help but think that a haircut for the big man would certainly help out with the “eye test” portion of Northwestern’s résumé come March.
From all of us here at Inside NU, we wish a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for your support throughout the year. May the new year bring you happiness, health, and lots of Northwestern wins!