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Northwestern will go as far as its backcourt will take it

Which is a little bit scary.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Collins knows that the current state of Northwestern's backcourt is an issue. That's why Northwestern was interested in Charlie Moore and Canyon Barry. With Tre Demps graduating, 37 minutes a night have opened up in the rotation. How Northwestern handles that will be the biggest story of the season.

The frontcourt, and the center specifically, will be important too, there's no question about that. Whether Dererk Pardon can stay out of foul trouble and if Barret Benson can step in and be college ready will be important when Northwestern plays the likes of Isaac Haas and Ethan Happ. But we know that Pardon can be a monster on the glass and that Benson is one of the most highly rated centers in the country. Odds are the frontcourt will be fine.

There's a really good chance that the guard play is less than fine next season.

Bryant McIntosh is the one player from who Northwestern fans know what they're getting. McIntosh is one of the better point guards in the conference. He's got a smooth handle and reads the game well. His work in the pick and roll won Northwestern the game against Wisconsin. However, he still needs to do a better job of getting to the rim and refining his deep stroke. McIntosh added a bunch of muscle over the past offseason but his reliance on floaters suggests that he's still not strong/fast enough to get all the way to the rim off the bounce. Of the games Shot Analytics tracked, more than 40% of McIntosh's shot attempts came in the midrange, as compared to 35% from three and 25% at the rim. Though McIntosh shot the lights out in non-conference play, he struggled with his jumper in Big Ten action, shooting just 26% from beyond the arc in conference games.

McIntosh as a scorer isn't that different from where he was as a freshman. His shooting splits are nearly identical, shooting 42/36/85 as a freshman and 42/37/82 as a sophomore with about a one shot per game uptick in usage. McIntosh became an even better distributor and as far as pass-first point-guards go, there aren't many who are much better than he. But he's still not the guy who's going to get the ball and get you a good look. Tre Demps was that guy. It's unclear who that guy is on this year's team. Let's look at the backcourt options who might step in for Demps:

Option 1: Scottie Lindsey

I've already dug into the tape on Scottie Lindsey on both ends of the court. To make a long story short, Scottie Lindsey is a really good spot up shooter whose game is still pretty limited. Defensively, he's often a liability, not communicating in the zone and getting taken off the dribble with regularity. Offensively, he doesn't have tight enough handles to get a good look, like what happens on this play.

Lindsey on the offensive end is a lot more similar to Aaron Falzon than the guy he's hoping to replace at the 2-guard spot. He's a perimeter player with bounce, but without the ability to really use that bounce thanks to his lackluster handle. He's still the favorite to start, but whether he can fill the Demps void is another issue entirely.

Option 2: Isiah Brown


No one knows what to expect from Brown yet. As everyone knows, he scored about a million points per game up in Seattle in high school but also is super duper small, listed at just 6-foot-1, 165 pounds by 247 Sports (which may be generous). If Brown can step in and find a way to score despite his size limitations, Chris Collins and his staff will be dancing in the streets of Evanston. As of now though, projecting college performance from his high school tape remains incredibly difficult and, probably, very unhelpful.

Option 3: Jordan Ash

I don't think Jordan Ash is ready for serious minutes yet, but the fact that he's the third-best returning guard (behind Lindsey and McIntosh) necessitates his inclusion in this conversation. His role last year was to spell McIntosh when the starting point guard needed a blow. That's probably what his role is going to be this year too.


I've gone back and forth on this point. I'm pretty sure I've mocked Henry Bushnell for suggesting that this is a legitimate option. But I've relented. This is probably the best option.

Unless Isiah Brown is as good as the most optimistic fan thinks he's going to be, playing a traditional off-ball guard in a traditional off-ball role is not going to be a winning strategy for Northwestern. When you talk to people who know, they'll tell you how good Vic Law's handle is. I don't know if he can marshal the offense the way Tre Demps was asked to do at times last year when opposing teams would severed McIntosh from the rest of the offense. But if he can be the second ballhandler on the court, it allows Scottie Lindsey to do what he does best: lurk around the perimeter looking to cap open threes.

Northwestern isn't going to look like teams that have two lead guards who can score and distribute with equal aplomb. That might not be in vogue. But if Northwestern can find a way to get creative with the 2s, 3s, and 4s, there's a way to hide a weakness while unleashing Vic Law. Northwestern could have three similarly built players with diverse and overlapping roles on both ends of the floor. And that could be really exciting.