Welcome to your 2019 Wildcats, Northwestern men’s basketball fans.
Less than two weeks of the season, it’s clear that this iteration of Northwestern basketball is going to be a unique one. Through three games, none of it seems to make much sense.
A sandwich of losses to Merrimack and Radford, with a win against Providence (now Top 25 in KenPom) in between, is an indication of what we’re in store for over the next three months.
There are a couple of reasons for the situation Collins’ team is in. The departure of three would-be veterans left an experience gap in the team that is impossible to fix, and results will be predicated on how Northwestern shoots the deep ball, a highly variable factor.
Let’s start with the former. At the beginning of January, Barret Benson, Aaron Falzon and Jordan Ash all decided to depart from the program. All three would have gotten significant minutes in this rotation and would have been the leaders of the team. With the trio, three seniors would have been represented on the roster. Without them, there are just two upperclassmen earning time in the rotation — Pat Spencer and AJ Turner — but both of them have transferred to the program in just the last two seasons.
Northwestern has already displayed some clear symptoms of a team that doesn’t have the veteran guidance it so very needs. Turnovers are the most glaring issue with this team through three games.
Any division one college basketball team with a negative turnover ratio is already in the bottom 130 (of 350 teams) in turnover ratio. Northwestern’s -3+ turnover ratio average places it in the bottom 40 of teams, and fifth-worst of all Power Five teams. The Wildcats had already turned it over 33 times entering Tuesday’s contest, and they gave the ball away ten more times against Radford last night.
NU has also shown impatience on offense, leading to poor shot selection and stagnant possessions. NU currently maintains a 43 percent field goal percentage and a 23 percent three-point percentage. The latter is good for 12th-worst in the country. There are 337 teams that have shot the deep-ball better than NU. Sure, part of that is a pure lack of talent, but it’s also an eagerness to take bad long-range shots, and it’s killing the Northwestern offense.
“We settled for some bad shots early,” Collins said. “Then I thought we had some open opportunities where we just weren’t making the extra pass. Sometimes you look at it and [Radford] makes 9-of-20 and we made 3-of-21. There’s your difference.”
For a team like Northwestern that doesn’t have an imposing interior threat to relieve pressure from the team’s shooting, any outing in which three-point shooting isn’t there will be extremely difficult to win. It’s just the way this squad is built.
“We don’t have that dominant low post presence,” Collins said. “We’re a team that when we’re not shooting the ball well, we have to find a way to get to the foul line or get a layup.”
The formula to understanding these past three games isn’t all that difficult. NU shot 44 percent from three-point range against Providence, while shooting a combined 13.5 percent from deep in the games in which it lost to mid-majors by double digits.
It’s easy, and frankly understandable, to write this team off after two astonishingly bad losses, but last week showed that this team is capable of putting together a complete performance. Good wins are better than bad losses, but these two defeats to begin the season for Northwestern are simply unacceptable. That’s the bottom-line.
Inexperience is certainly a factor, but missed shots and a seemingly non-existent offensive scheme are what it boils down when trying to explain these embarrassing performances
So what does it all add up to in Evanston? A wild year in which surprising upsets and painfully bad losses will likely become the norm.
And it’s all just getting started.