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ROUNDTABLE: One bold prediction for the men’s basketball season

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Our staffers foresee a former lacrosse player making a big impact among other breakout players.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Illinois David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Noah Coffman: Boo Buie leads the team in scoring during Big Ten play

Though Anthony Gaines looks to be clearly Northwestern’s best player headed into the 2019-20 season, the question of which Wildcats is the best on the offensive end specifically is an open one. Gaines does a lot of little things well, and is a defensive terror, but until he refines his driving ability and improves his three point shot, the powerful, athletic guard can only do so much on the other end.

Meanwhile, the contenders for top scorer are surprisingly thin. Miller Kopp and AJ Turner would seem to be the leaders in the competition, with each having their moments last year, especially the former Boston College transfer. But with no Wildcat having yet broken out consistently in the scoring department, despite plenty having the chance to, the quick-trigger point guard has suddenly become a dark horse in the conversation.

Buie has growing pains to work through, and probably won’t even start for much of non-conference play. But with his natural ability to shoot and slash, and his willingness to get up shots, the Albany native has a chance to take a step forward and bear the offensive load, especially as he becomes more accustomed to Big Ten play.

Don’t be surprised when it happens, that’s all I’m saying.

Jacob Brown: AJ Turner becomes a draft prospect

Northwestern isn’t likely to have a great season this year. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that NU wins less than 12 games. Aside from Anthony Gaines showing out and some talent development, NU has one thing going for it: AJ Turner makes a name for himself. If the senior is finally allowed to step into a leadership role, and becomes NU’s primary scorer, I can see him averaging around 20 points per game and shooting the ball extremely well.

If he can continue to develop his three point shot, I can even see him getting some hype as a three and d player that garners some NBA draft talk, or at least marks him as available for the G League.

Joe Weinberg: Jared Jones provides hope for the NU front court moving forward

Out of all the uncertainties facing this team heading into the season, Northwestern’s inexperience in the front court is the most pressing in my opinion. With Dererk Pardon gone, the Wildcats lose a center who gave the team what felt like its only semblance of offensive consistency at times.

Northwestern’s options at center are fairly scarce with Jones and redshirt first-year Ryan Young as the only big men listed on the roster. After bulking up this offseason, sophomore Pete Nance could feature in at the No. 5 slot in the offense, but I think that Jones makes a name for himself as the team’s primary big guy by the end of the year. He’ll find himself at a size disadvantage throughout the season as he gets thrown into the fire in what promises to be a rebuilding year for Chris Collins’ team, but overall, I think Jones scoring ability and length on the defensive end will give NU fans a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

Avery Zimmerman: NU wins less than four games in Big Ten play, yet the season is a success

The ‘Cats had an abysmal 2018-19 season, winning only four games in conference play, or 20 percent of their Big Ten contests. It’s not going to get any better this year, but that won’t mean the end of the world. It’s hard to expect much from a team like the one Collins possesses this year, and I foresee the Wildcats failing to match their conference win total from last year. So how will the season be a success? Development across the board.

First and foremost, improved numbers from sophomores Miller Kopp and Pete Nance are vital, and I think we’ll see that. Kopp displays a more offensive skill set and Nance utilizes his added muscle as the duo becomes a driving force for the squad. Robbie Beran will also give fans a taste of his scoring ability, though his small frame will limit his ability to make a significant impact this year. But overall, if Collins’ core for the future can show why it truly is that, the season would have to be ruled a win.

Daniel Olinger: Northwestern starts a three-guard lineup later in the season

Specifically, I think we see Boo Buie, Pat Spencer and Anthony Gaines share the court, sliding Miller Kopp to the four and Pete Nance to the five. It’s been proven now that in basketball you won’t get necessarily killed for going small, and I think this lineup give the ‘Cats their most defensive versatility and offensive upside.

Most importantly, swapping out Ryan Greer and Ryan Young for Buie and Spencer provides much needed shooting prowess. Northwestern’s offense didn’t have ideological problems last year. In fact, they finished 9th in assist rate in the entire country. The issue was that they finished last in the Big 10 in EFG%, second to last in three point percentage, and dead last in offensive efficiency rating.

Ryan Young is a solid but paint-bound center, and Ryan Greer shot an ugly 23.5% from deep in his freshman season. It’s a small sample size, but Buie lived up to his shooter reputation in the exhibition, knocking down 4 of 8 three point attempts, and Pat Spencer made 1 of 2 himself. I understand if you’d rather have AJ Turner in there than Spencer, but I think the latter’s athleticism and off-the dribble ability is far superior to Turner’s and could help keep that offense flowing, and additionally Collins probably wants to have AJ Turner’s veteran leadership for that second platoon of players.

Yes, teams like Michigan St. and Ohio St. might pound the post relentlessly, punishing the ‘Cats for playing a very thin center in Pete Nance. But this article is for bold predictions, and I think Northwestern will make the bold decision to shift away from conventional positions as the year progress.

Mac Stone: The ‘Cats win at least six Big Ten games this year

I know what you’re thinking: how is this bold? If this were any team besides Northwestern, it wouldn’t be. Last season, the Wildcats won just six conference games with the help of Vic Law and Dererk Pardon. Well, both have now graduated, leaving the ‘Cats with a frontcourt led by sophomore Pete Nance and first-year Jared Jones. The team is remarkably young, so it’s no secret that they may be battling in the basement of the Big Ten. Yet, I say no, most likely making myself look like a fool at the end of the year. Oh well.

Caleb Friedman: Robbie Beran will emerge as the team’s best player

There are a lot of unknowns for Northwestern this season, and Beran is one of them. At 6-foo-9 and 207 pounds, Beran is probably too thin to bang in the post and guard bigger players around the rim. But his skill is undeniable, and he’s probably the most talented player on the team in terms of raw ability.

Plus, Beran can hit shots from the outside, which most of Northwestern’s players couldn’t do last season. The Virginia native will go through growing pains like all freshmen do, and it’s probably a bad sign for this season’s team if he’s the best player. Miller Kopp and Pete Nance should improve in their second seasons, but we’ll be talking about Beran as the player with the most All-Big Ten potential heading into 2020-2021.

Colin Kruse: Pat Spencer will lead the team in assists

This prediction takes the bold assumption that Spencer’s skillset will adapt to Division 1 basketball. The hype surrounding Pat Spencer is perhaps not based on the expectation that he will carry the ‘Cats to success; rather, his athleticism and the fact that he’s one of if not the greatest college lacrosse players of all time adds a ton of intrigue in what should ultimately be a rebuilding season for Chris Collins’ squad.

However, when Collins slots him in an off-guard role, Spencer will provide a ton of athleticism and hustle on both sides of the court. His shooting and off-ball mobility has also been cited as strengths for which to look out. Simultaneously, his unselfish mentality on the lacrosse field will find its way onto the court. Last season, Vic Law led the ‘Cats with 3.0 APG, while the team was 117th in Division 1 with 14.1 APG. For comparison, in his final season, Bryant McIntosh had 5.2 APG. Spencer will emerge as the pass-first option in the young, inexperienced Northwestern backcourt.

Matthew Albert: The Wildcats get at least one 4+ star recruit in the class of 2021

I know this is sort of a cop-out, but stick with me here. As Colin mentioned in his thorough recruiting roundup last week, the Wildcats are in the mix for a lot of top-quality talent. The connections of recruits such as Pat Baldwin Jr., Max Christie, and Luke Goode to Northwestern will play an important role in their recruitment. Coach Collins gets the biggest addition to a Northwestern sports team since Peter Skoronski’s commitment earlier this year. Collins is able to sell them on his vision for the future, setting the Wildcats up for another future tournament run.

Eli Karp: Pat Spencer averages double-digit scoring

Similar to Colin’s point above, there’s a lot of excited uncertainty surrounding the lacrosse-turned basketball player. It seems like within the team, there’s also plenty of question marks as to what kind of rotation Chris Collins will use. However, Spencer’s athleticism helps him out in one key facet of the Northwestern — and any — offense: getting to the rim.

Last year, the Wildcat offense struggled, due in part to a lack in being able to attack the basket. The ‘Cats took a lot of jump shots and didn’t make enough of them. Further, two-pointers comprised 47.6 percent of NU’s total points, which ranked just 228th in the country. What does this mean for Spencer? He’s going to have a role in getting to the basket, and with a natural guard starting and hopefully being able to distribute more, Spencer could be a valuable weapon which which to attack close to the rim.

Ryley Hougland: Robbie Beran will average 12+ PPG

Like Caleb, I’m buying into the Beran hype. Now without Vic Law, who averaged 15 last year, someone is going to have to step in and pick up a bulk of the offensive load. While the freshman forward only scored 2 against Quincy off of four shots, I think he’ll become a key part of the offense going forward.

Beran has the ability to score all over the court, and if other players (notably Miller Kopp and AJ Turner) can hit outside shots consistently, it could open things up for him to score both off the bounce and from the outside. He may start the season a little rough (he is a true freshman, after all), but as the season picks up he may become one of the team’s leading scorers.