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Five storylines to watch: Northwestern vs. Radford

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The Highlanders will be hungry for an upset after a few close losses to start the season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Villanova vs Radford Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern men’s basketball returns to the hardwood tonight after a huge bounce back win against Providence last week. The Wildcats didn’t fare too well in their first game against a mid-major in 2019, and they get a much tougher one this time around with Radford coming to town.

Here are some of the intriguing storylines to follow heading into Tuesday’s matchup:

Radford is no stranger to the big stage

Don’t let their 1-2 record to start the year fool you: this team will present a tough challenge for NU. The Highlanders went 22-11 and reached the Big South Championship Game last year, and most recently reached the NCAA Tournament in 2018. Over the course of 2019, Radford knocked off both Texas and Notre Dame on the road during non-conference play, and they’ll be hungry for another Power Five upset after getting off to a slow start this year.

Experienced point guard Carlik Jones leads the Highlanders, averaging 23.0 PPG in three games this year. After two closes losses to respectable mid-major opponents in Liberty and Georgia Southern, Redford, currently ranked 134th in KenPom, should come out with a little bit of fire against a Northwestern team we now know to be vulnerable to the upset.

Can Ryan Young recreate last game’s success?

One of the biggest bright spots from the Providence win was the play Northwestern got from its redshirt first year center. In just his second career appearance, Young was Northwestern’s most effective offensive weapon, finishing the contest with 16 points and seven boards.

After struggling against Merrimack, Young, much like the rest of the team, looked like an entirely new player last week. Tuesday will be a chance to show that he’s going to be more than just a one-game wonder.

Ball security

Northwestern’s turnovers committed were out of control against Providence, and it nearly cost them the game. The Wildcats gave it away a whopping 20 times, including four each from two of the more experienced guys on the team in Miller Kopp and Pete Nance. Couple that with 13 turnovers against Merrimack, and this is officially a major concern for Chris Collins’ squad.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats have forced a mediocre 21 turnovers in two games. They’ll have to clean up that ratio and, in particular, offensive ball security if they want to continue to rack up wins in non-conference play.

Boo Buie searches for any ounce of confidence

The struggles of Northwestern’s first year point guard have been somewhat overshadowed in the wild ride that has been these first two games. After a promising 18-point performance in the Wildcats’ exhibition back in October, Buie has been nowhere to be found in these last two contests. Part of that is due to playing time (he’s only seeing 14.5 minutes per game), but when he has been on the court, he’s looked lost and lacking confidence.

His only points this season have come on a single three-pointer, having shot just 1-for-7 from the field this year without yet reaching the charity stripe. He also leads the team with six fouls. Much of this is obviously understandable given his true first year status, but Buie will need to become a vital part of this NU backcourt moving forward, and that confidence must start to grow in these types of games before the Wildcats get the Big Ten heavyweights in just a few weeks.

How will the Wildcats come out on defense?

In case you missed our basketball coverage from last week, Northwestern’s weird, yet effective zone defense turned out to be the decisive factor in the Providence win. Following the game, Chris Collins emphasized the resounding effectiveness of the zone in defeating the Friars, but also noted that Northwestern would not abandon man-to-man defense altogether moving forward.

The Wildcats’ zone was also greatly bailed out by a dismal shooting effort from Providence, so it will be interesting to see how Collins elects to defend the Highlanders on Tuesday, especially if they have a bit more success from the field.