It’s almost that time. The men’s basketball team is set to tip off its 2018-19 season with an exhibition against McKendree on Friday. There is a whole lot of new for NU this year — four freshmen, two transfers, and, of course, the renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena. After a disappointing 2017-18 campaign, what would make this year a success?
Davis Rich: Make the NIT
I don’t think this year’s Northwestern team is more talented than last year’s 15-17 unit. Still, with so many new faces, it feels like a tabula rasa for NU basketball. The Wildcats have the right combination of leadership and veteran talent (Ryan Taylor is good, everyone) to improve on their win total from last year. A weak non-conference schedule should allow the Wildcats to pick up some early wins, and the Big Ten is pretty much wide open. NU isn’t ready for the top half of the conference yet, but I don’t think a sub-.500 record is in the cards, either. I wouldn’t expect Northwestern to be included much bracketology this year, but making the NIT and playing some meaningful postseason games would create some momentum for the program after last year’s debacle.
Noah Coffman: Win 20 games
I’m not expecting every win to come in the regular season, but Northwestern should be able to acquit themselves well enough in non-conference play that treading water in the Big Ten earns them at least an NIT berth. Between 8 and 10 wins over a semi-difficult slate before a similar number in Big Ten play would be a success, probably creating an opportunity for some wins in the Big Ten Tournament and in the postseason. Though I think this squad has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, finishing with 5 more wins than last year’s bunch would be enough of an accomplishment for a relatively young team to merit the success label. Regardless of which way the victories come, a definitive winning season either includes taking care of business against lesser foes, knocking off a few top teams, or a mixture of both, and that would be a positive.
Avery Zimmerman: Make the NIT
Adding on to what Davis said, after the ordeal that was last year, a return to postseason play would represent a successful campaign. This year is really unpredictable, largely because we don’t know the talent level of the new additions to this team and how they will fit in. Ryan Taylor should be able to fill a scoring void in the team, but how much freshmen Pete Nance and Miller Kopp can produce will be a huge question. One thing that works in favor of Northwestern is their fairly easy non-conference schedule. They should be able to pick up a bunch of wins and find their footing before the meat of Big Ten play kicks in. NU figures to be in the middle of the pack of the conference, but the conference is also not very strong this year. It’ll be extremely difficult to reach the NCAA Tournament this year, but the NIT would serve as a stepping stone for future years.
Matthew Albert: Making the NIT
I don’t feel the need to restate much of what’s already been said by Davis and Avery, as I tend to agree with much of what they said. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this Wildcat team, as it is the first without familiar faces like Bryant McIntosh, who will be missed, yet I am excited to see where the team can pick up. While I’d love this team to somehow find a way to sneak into the tournament, I am far from optimistic about the chances of that happening, but do see this team as more than talented enough to end up playing in the postseason in some fashion and establish a winning culture for the first-year players.
Eli Karp: Laying the foundation for the future
This team, simply put, is in a weird spot. It has an interesting mix of skilled Northwestern veterans, transfers and newcomers to make you think it could mesh really well. But then there’s also the reality of last year’s disappointment, the departure of two of the most impactful players in program history and the fact that nobody really knows who’s going to handle the ball. While there is undoubtedly some win-now talent on this roster — Ryan Taylor, Vic Law, Dererk Pardon, A.J. Turner — this season is very much a rebuilding one for Chris Collins. His main goal has to be developing his four freshmen — the best recruiting class in Northwestern history. The NU head coach knows he is in for a challenge designing a scheme around his unique personnel, and there are likely to be growing pains along the way. Those growing pains will be more than acceptable if it means setting up longer-term success with this recruiting class and the ones to come.
Chris Grismer: The development of young players and a brighter future
I think it’s important to learn what the team’s expectations are for the season, and then set your own, accordingly. Last season, Collins, McIntosh and Lindsey went on the Big Ten Network and talked about making the Final Four. The message was clear: They thought they could win big. Spoilers: They didn’t. In the past couple weeks, Collins has talked about capturing the magic, so to speak, of what the 2016-17 team so good. Rather than talking about winning a lot of games, he and the players have emphasized having the right mindset and work ethic. Even if that doesn’t translate on the court into wins right away, I think I’ll be satisfied. With a renovated arena, brand-new facilities and a promising young core, Northwestern is working towards a greater future. If the present is a 15-win season and so-so conference record, I’m fine with that.
Caleb Friedman: Making the NCAA Tournament
I’m surprised I’m the only person to say this, but anything short of an NCAA Tournament berth is a disappointment. An NIT appearance does nothing for the trajectory of the program, and, in the final year of Vic Law, Dererk Pardon and Ryan Taylor, Northwestern should compete in the Big Ten. Sure, there isn’t a huge difference between being one of the last teams in or last teams out of the Tournament in terms of season performance. Making the Tournament should be the team’s goal every season though, and moral victories like the NIT aren’t going help the program continue to ascend like it needs to.