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Northwestern men’s basketball 2018-19 season predictions

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Here’s what our staffers think is in store for the Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

NU christened the new Welsh-Ryan Arena on Friday night, but the season begins in earnest against New Orleans tonight. Here’s how our staffers see the 2018-19 campaign shaking out. Sound off in the comments if you agree, or even better, if you don’t.

Davis Rich

Regular season record: 18-13 (9-11 B1G)

Postseason: NIT second round

MVP: Dererk Pardon

Breakout Player: Anthony Gaines

One Northwestern basketball era ended with the graduations of Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Gavin Skelly, and a new one won’t begin, in my opinion, until the class of 2019 gets to Evanston next year. That leaves this year’s group in a bit of a limbo, with a lot of new faces combined with standouts Vic Law and Dererk Pardon. It could take a while for a new-look offense to start humming. The Wildcats will lose one home game they shouldn’t (to DePaul or Georgia Tech) and finish non-conference play 9-2. I think they’ll play close to .500 basketball in conference play, buoyed by a defense that will show up every night. This team isn’t quite deep enough to sniff the Tournament, though.

Eli Karp

Regular season record: 19-12 (10-10 B1G)

Postseason: NIT first round

MVP: Ryan Taylor

Breakout Player: A.J. Turner

The volume of playmakers on this team is exciting, and if this team can figure out its innovative offense somewhat early on we might be in for a fascinating campaign. I just don’t think the offense will come easy for awhile. Vic Law and Dererk Pardon will both serve as steadying forces, and I think Ryan Taylor will become a fan favorite since people will love to watch his shooting, but after that there is a lot of uncertainly. I’m with Davis in that I agree this year is a bit of a gray area with regard to youth and development. The increased Big Ten schedule that starts in December may deal the ‘Cats some early conference losses while they figure out the offense. I see a team that will stay competitive in most games, especially in a Big Ten that is pretty open. An NIT bid might not be the most ceremonious way to send off Law, Pardon and Ash, but there will be moments this year that will ignite hope in the fanbase for the future.

Avery Zimmerman

Regular season record: 20-11 (11-9 B1G)

Postseason: NIT first round

MVP: Dererk Pardon

Breakout Player: Ryan Taylor

There are many questions surrounding Northwestern this year. Can anyone handle the ball consistently? How is the offense going to run? How will the 2018 recruiting class fit into the picture? I think we’re going to be positively surprised with the results. Ryan Taylor can shoot the lights out, and I think freshmen Pete Nance and Miller Kopp can play solid roles in their inaugural Northwestern seasons. Dererk Pardon excels in his final year, and Northwestern suddenly finds themselves with an improved starting five. The problem for the team lies in their depth, which will hinder their ability to win games in conference play. Overall, NU has a successful year and lays a foundation for the future.

Caleb Friedman

Regular season record: 19-12 (9-11 B1G)

Postseason: None

MVP: Ryan Taylor

Breakout Player: Ryan Taylor

I think Northwestern will be better offensively this season than last, and, as my predictions indicate, I think Ryan Taylor will be a major part of that. I think the defense will be better than last season too, but I see the conference and the schedule as an obstacle for the postseason. The non-conference schedule doesn’t really have any marquee opponents, and NU only gets Michigan State and Purdue once in Big Ten play. The Big Ten struggled to get teams to the postseason a year ago, and I don’t think that much will change this year.

Noah Coffman

Regular season record: 21-10 (12-8 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament second round

MVP: Vic Law

Breakout Player: Pete Nance

I’m admittedly more bullish on this Northwestern team than most, but with all of the shooters and length that they can roll out this year, the lack of a true point guard shouldn’t necessarily be a huge issue. The team defense should be much improved with the departure of arguably the two worst individual defenders in last year’s rotation, and we know Ryan Taylor will score in bunches. Meanwhile, if Vic Law and Dererk Pardon continue to improve on the offensive end and Pete Nance showcases his talent the way I expect him too, the Wildcats will be much improved offensively. Nationally, folks are down on this team, but a lot of it seems to stem from an overcorrection to last year. In a slightly down year for the Big Ten, I think this team has the right mixture of role players, potential stars, veterans, and youngsters to break through.

Tristan Jung

Regular season record: 17-14 (8-12 B1G)

Postseason: none

MVP: Vic Law

Breakout Player: Ryan Taylor

I think Northwestern could very well get off to a hot start, but a lack of depth might cost them big time down the stretch. Northwestern has a very doable non-conference slate, but conference play is going to be a big ask with no reliable point guard and a tough set of Big Ten road games. I don’t necessarily think going 8-12 in B1G play would be a disaster, but we might see some really ugly games like last year. The team should be way more entertaining in the aggregate though.

Will Ragatz

Regular season record: 22-9 (12-8 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament first round

MVP: Ryan Taylor

Breakout Player: Pete Nance

I’m well aware I’m giving in to my heart rather than using my head with this pick. The lack of a proven point guard is a big problem (I was really excited about Jordan Lathon...oh well) and it’s unclear who outside of Taylor will create their own shot. But as we’ve learned over the last two years, it’s hard to predict how a Chris Collins team is going to fare. The 2016-17 team greatly exceeded expectations, and last year’s squad came up shockingly short in its attempt to reach the bar set by Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn (who we clearly undervalued). The nation is far too down on these Wildcats; CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander ranking NU seventh in the state of Illinois is utter buffoonery. Taylor, Law and Pardon are going to be awesome. Gaines and Turner will effectively round out the Cats’ most athletic starting lineup of all time. Froshes Nance and Kopp will lead a solid bench. NU goes 10-1 in non-con and gets to 12 wins in a Big Ten that lacks any truly elite teams. Book it.

Matthew Albert

Regular season record: 19-12 (10-10 B1G)

Postseason: NIT quarterfinals

MVP: Ryan Taylor

Breakout Player: Pete Nance

I’m cautiously excited for this season but also cognizant of the facts, playing without a true point guard will cause issues at times for the Wildcats. The talent that Ryan Taylor has cannot and has not been understated, and I feel that he’ll quickly become a fan favorite. The non-conference schedule is very manageable and I expect the team to fare well. The other Big Ten matchups should prove much tougher, due to the physicality of other teams. Pete Nance will shine but it will prove to be an adjustment. I expect the team to come out strong and impress at the Wooden Legacy tournament and create early national buzz, but falling short of making the tournament.

Spencer Levitt

Regular season record: 18-13 (10-10 B1G)

Postseason: NIT First Round

MVP: Dererk Pardon

Breakout Player: Ryan Taylor

Last year was disappointing—Northwestern had a solid starting five and entered play as a ranked team, but as the season went on, it became very clear the ranking given to Northwestern at the beginning was a mistake. Northwestern went 15-17 overall with a 6-12 record in the Big Ten, and, yes, there were some injuries that played a role, but without depth, the team couldn’t play at a high level consistently. Now, entering the post-McIntosh era, the team still has a strong backbone in Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, and my bet is that Ryan Taylor proves to be that exciting player the team needs for some big wins. Freshmen Pete Nance and Miller Kopp will contribute, and the 2018-2019 season will end with an NIT bid.

Chris Grismer

Regular season record: 18-14 (9-11 B1G)

Postseason: None

MVP: Dererk Pardon

Breakout Player: A.J. Turner

The Wildcats will take advantage of a relatively easy non-conference schedule to jump out to a fast start, but a so-so conference record will leave them just shy of 20 wins

Graham Brennan

Regular season record: 23-9 (11-9 BIG)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

MVP: Vic Law

Breakout Player: Pete Nance

I’m thinking that the Wildcats won’t lose in non-conference play; largely because of the friendly confines of the new Welsh-Ryan Arena. More significant than the expensive new arena, however, is the new-look roster. I’m a big believer in long, stretch-the-floor, switch-everything lineups. It’s how most all successful, non-Russell Westbrook led, basketball teams play (and you be the judge on whether Russell Westbrook led teams are “successful”). Last year’s team was, as we all know, headed by two iso, pick and roll reliant players in Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh. Neither were plus defenders or long range shooters. Ryan Taylor, A.J. Turner and Miller Kopp (newcomers) can shoot and also possess the length to successfully work within a switch-heavy defensive scheme. I’m bullish on this Wildcat team because the roster is made up of long players that are capable of stretching the floor. It also helps that Northwestern’s best player is an uber athletic, excellent defensive player entering his fifth season. I.E, he’s ready to lead. The most highly touted recruit in program history is also waiting in the wings.