Northwestern enters the 2017-18 season with a talented, experienced roster, bringing back four of five starters. But which of those four players will be the Wildcats’ best as they look to return to the NCAA Tournament? We asked our writers that very question.
Will Ragatz: Scottie Lindsey
I’ll start this off with a bit of a hot take. I think the most popular answers will be Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law, and with good reason. Picking Lindsey is a mix of knowing what he already does extremely well and predicting another leap in certain areas. For my money, Lindsey is Northwestern’s best pure scorer; he’s a better shooter than McIntosh and unlike Law, can get to the rim off the dribble and finish in a variety of ways. He shot over 50 percent on two-pointers last season, which trailed only the three bigs and Sanjay Lumpkin. He was also Northwestern’s best player at not turning the ball over, with a TO rate of just 11.7 percent. As for this year, I think Lindsey will continue to improve the other areas of his game, namely defense (which he’s already pretty good at) and rebounding. The 6-foot-5 Fenwick product has the athleticism, work ethic, and talent for a huge senior season featuring several 30-point explosions.
Talia Hendel: Bryant McIntosh
As Will alluded to, this is a pretty unsurprising answer. McIntosh may not be the best shooter on the team, but his assists are unmatched and a massive component of his success as a point guard. The senior averaged the most assists per game in the Big Ten last season (5.2 per game) and has the fifth highest career assist percentage (34.1) in the Big Ten since the 2009-10 season. Although his three-point shooting percentage dropped a bit last season, from just over 36 percent to just under 31 percent, the 6-foot-3 guard’s ability to drive and dish and finish at the rim is crucial to this team’s success. Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law put up similar points and contribute highly to the team’s scoring, but their offensive success requires B-Mac’s ability to make plays and get them the ball. His court vision and instincts are unmatched and I expect him to lead this team to another successful season this year, particularly if he improves on his three-point field goal percentage.
Chris Grismer: Vic Law
Now two years removed from shoulder surgery, Law seems primed for a breakout season. As the team’s lockdown perimeter defender, Law expertly shaded guards and wings all season, earning a Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection. His offense, on the other hand, was hit or miss. Law shot an abysmal 35.6 percent from the field during conference play. He took nearly 30 percent of his field goal attempts from inside the three-point line but outside the paint, according to the Daily Northwestern’s shot charts, shooting 25.5 percent from that area. Law needs to turn those midrange bricks into drives to the basket. He’s certain capable of doing so; he led the team in free throw attempts last season. The bet here is that Law rejiggers his shot selection and sees a boost in scoring and efficiency. He’s already a solid three-point shooter. By improving his offense, Law should become Northwestern’s best all-around player.
Tristan Jung: Dererk Pardon
Do we all have different answers so far? That’s great. I’m going with a “most valuable” argument rather than “best.” Dererk Pardon is the best center Northwestern has had since Evan Eschmeyer. He improved every facet of his game last season, and should be bigger and stronger next season. Pardon has an elite offensive rebounding rate, is very efficient at the basket, and is a defensive presence in the paint. Let’s look at the best players by offensive rating in the Big Ten last year, via KenPom:
Hey, look at Sanjay Lumpkin! Anyway, this list is not perfect, but Pardon was very, very efficient offensively last season. Defensively, he’s quick enough and long enough to defend most players and protect the basket. Pardon may not be the team’s leading scorer, but he’ll be the team’s leading rebounder and most important defender. The only thing holding him back is foul trouble. He committed way too many silly fouls last season, and he also only shot 54 percent from the line. If he can commit one fewer foul per game and get his free throw percentage up a few percentage points, I think he’ll be the most valuable Northwestern player.
Caleb Friedman: Bryant McIntosh
I was tempted to go with Law because of his defense, which doesn't get as much hype as it should. But the truth is, B-Mac is Northwestern's MVP, and it isn't particularly close. Without McIntosh on the floor, the Wildcats don't really have an offense. Everything runs through him, and Chris Collins couldn't really take him out in important games last season; see Northwestern vs. Wisconsin in Madison. Everything suffers when he isn't initiating sets offensively, and he creates for others better than anyone else on the team by a mile. Sure, McIntosh isn't always efficient. Sometimes he loves the hero-ball a little too much. But he's gutsy as hell, and Northwestern wouldn't be close to where it is without him.
Martin Oppegaard: Bryant McIntosh
I’ll pretty much echo Caleb’s thoughts here. Yes, McIntosh has his off nights, but in the end, this team goes as far he takes them. He’s Northwestern’s unequivocal senior leader, one of the best point guards in the conference and ultimately Northwestern’s best player. The parity in our responses is a great sign. This is a special team.
Davis Rich: Vic Law
I think McIntosh is Northwestern’s most important player— the offense simply doesn’t run without him. Whether he is Northwestern’s best player is another question. As Northwestern’s most explosive athlete and arguably its most versatile player, Vic Law has the potential for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Expect the redshirt junior to be used all over the court, guarding point guards and power forwards and using his length and agility to disrupt passing lanes and generate steals. Obviously, there is work to be done offensively — Law struggles to create shots for himself or others off the dribble. But a nascent post-up game provides a little hope for development, and Law’s strong three-point shooting means he should at least match his 12.3 points per game from last season. Law may never take the reigns of the offense from McIntosh. That doesn’t mean he won’t be the Wildcats’ best player.
Noah Coffman: Scottie Lindsey
I think that Lindsey, who is already Northwestern’s most consistent scorer and probably its best pure shooter, will find a way to take the next step and transform himself into a true two-way stud this year. If Lindsey, a solid defender to begin with, can show clear improvement on that side of the ball without a scoring drop-off, he will certainly be Northwestern’s most valuable player and will become nearly impossible to take off the floor. Mainly because he’s already shown the capacity for huge improvement through his sophomore-to-junior transformation into an All-Big Ten-level scorer, I believe he will make significant upgrades on the defensive side of the ball and cement himself as the star of Northwestern’s best-ever team.