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Life after B-Mac: What to expect from NU’s offense in 2018-19

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In their first season without their pick and roll maestro, the Wildcats are implementing a brand-new offense this year.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Northwestern Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, Ill. — Bryant McIntosh is gone. Scottie Lindsey is gone. The Wildcats offense that you’ve known for the past four years is gone, too. With six new players on the roster, along with key losses, Chris Collins has had to adjust his offensive playbook to fit his personnel.

Perhaps the two greatest casualties of the offseason are McIntosh and Lindsey. The team’s starting backcourt from last season led the Wildcats in usage percentage, per sports-reference, creating shot opportunities for themselves as well as their teammates. With them now gone, it’s unclear who is going to fill the offensive vacuum that’s left behind.

There is a precedent for this kind of changing of the guard. In 2016, Tre Demps and Alex Olah were the team’s leaders in usage percentage, per sports-reference. The next season, without those two, Northwestern’s offense improved from 71st to 59th, per KenPom. While losing McIntosh and Lindsey hurts, Collins and his staff have proven that they can make it work before.

This year will be a difficult task, however, as nobody on the roster has McIntosh’s ability to set teammates up, either via the pick and roll or off of drives. Nobody on the current roster has come close to replicating McIntosh’s assist percentage.

Without a true lead ball-handler, Collins said he and his coaching staff are working on unconventional ways to get into their offense.

“I think you’ll see less pick and rolls, more off-ball movement, cutting, more low-post play,” he said. “We have big guards, big wings, so we’ll use that to our advantage to kind of get guys inside and out.”

Assistant coach Brian James went as far as saying that they’re changing the offense “almost entirely,” working with several different players to improve their ball-handling, including A.J. Turner, Ryan Taylor and Vic Law.

“We’re playing point guard by committee,” James said. “We’ve never done that before. We’re playing a lot of two-guard fronts. We’ve never done that before, either.”

Still, he’s optimistic that the team will continue to get to spots on the floor in which they’re comfortable. After all, Northwestern has ranked in the top-100 in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency for the past four seasons, all of which with Collins at the helm.

“We still are running similar plays that we have in the past,” James said. “But we’re getting into them a little bit differently.”

Dererk Pardon said that the team went through an adjustment period with the new offensive scheme, but that everyone is adapting to it well, even the new players. The most accomplished of the newcomers is graduate transfer Ryan Taylor, who led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring last season. Collins said he expects him, along with Vic Law and Pardon, to start.

“He definitely spreads the floor,” Law said. “I think just having him as another floor spacer will open up driving lanes.”

Taylor shot 42.4 percent from downtown last year, which would have ranked first on Northwestern. Given his high usage percentage and the Wildcats’ lack of a true scorer on the roster, it makes sense for him to be the team’s primary option on offense. Collins said as much when asked how Taylor is fitting in with his new teammates.

“They want him to do his thing,” Collins said. “They want him to be a guy who looks for shots and does what he does best.”

Looking ahead to Friday’s exhibition against McKendree, Collins said he’s still working out his rotation, hoping to use the game to continue experimenting with different lineups.

“I’m less concerned about how we start, and more concerned about kind of putting the best groups together so that we always have a good team on the floor,” Collins said.