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ROUNDTABLE: Men’s basketball season predictions

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How do our staffers see the season playing out?

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally that time! The Northwestern men’s basketball season will officially kick off Friday night against Division 1 newcomer Merrimack. You’ve read our player previews and seen our bold predictions, which means it’s time for our basketball writers to give their full-season predictions. Suffice it to say, these are a bit less positive than last year’s, on the whole, but there is still optimism to be found if you know where to look.

Noah Coffman

Regular Season record: 10-20 (3-17)

Postseason: N/A

MVP: Anthony Gaines

Breakout Player: Pat Spencer/Boo Buie

Look, I’ll just come right out and say it: this team ain’t great. But they are probably better than Nebraska, who lost by 19 to UC-Riverside on Tuesday, so that’s something!

In all seriousness, the 2019-20 iteration of the Wildcats should at least be fun as they get through their growing pains. Though I think the team defense will take some time to coalesce, Gaines will be dominant on that end of the floor, and things should open up a bit offensively, especially when Buie and Spencer start to (hopefully) prove themselves and Collins moves towards smaller lineups.

Though I don’t think they’ll win a lot of games, this squad will be competitive when it feels like they shouldn’t, and they’ve got a lot of compelling pieces that should be fun to watch all season long. Somehow, at this stage of Chris Collins’ program, those two things feel like wins.

Joe Weinberg

Regular Season record: 11-19 (6-14)

Postseason: Nah

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Jared Jones

I’m going to take the optimistic route and say Northwestern wins six big ten games.

Here’s where those wins come: Two against a Nebraska team that got blown out by UC Riverside earlier in the week. One against Illinois. One at Rutgers. And two-of-three home upsets against Iowa/Ohio State/Penn State. The expectations for this team are about as low as possible, and I think that will play to their favor as they enter the season projected by most to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten.

Avery Zimmerman

Regular Season record: 9-21 (2-18)

Postseason: No

MVP: Anthony Gaines

Breakout Player: Miller Kopp

This is going to be a tough year for Northwestern as a team. With the departure of its two best players in Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, there isn’t much experience nor offensive skill in this group. Nearly every game is going to be a grind and the Big Ten will not be kind to the ‘Cats.

However, some positives will be taken from the 2019-20 iteration of Chris Collins’ squad. Anthony Gaines will build on his excellent defensive season and contend for Big Ten defensive player of the year, and Miller Kopp will showcase an expanded offensive skill set that allows him to be the team’s biggest weapon. Overall, though, it’ll be tough to find wins in January and beyond.

Daniel Olinger

Regular season record: 12-18 (5-15 Big Ten)

Postseason: None

MVP: Pete Nance

Breakout Player: Pete Nance

If you’ve been reading some of my football pieces, you probably think of me as a brutal pessimist (which is more or less true). However, I’m kind of hopeful for the basketball team this year. And yes, projecting five conference wins counts as hopeful when everyone and their mothers have picked the ‘Cats to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten this year. Chris Collins is a great coach with a talented but very inexperienced team.

That formula usually equates to taking your lumps for a majority of the season, picking up some important upset wins in conference play and coming back much stronger in the next season. As the season progresses, the ‘Cats will develop the reputation as a tough-out for opponents, even if they haven’t been able to put it all together yet.

One of the main reasons Wildcat fans will enjoy this team is Pete Nance. Maybe it’s just because I did his preview, but I can’t help myself, I’m all in on this guy. It’s way too early to judge him after a disappointing first year considering his potential and basketball lineage. My bet is that he turns into the focal point of the offense, through some scattered post-up opportunities and especially as a pick-and-roll partner with guards like Boo Buie and Anthony Gaines. We might even see him do his best Draymond Green impersonation as a small ball five should my bold prediction come to fruition.

Also: In case anyone thinks it’s cheating to list a player as both MVP and the breakout player, you can put me down as a member of the “Boo Buie is going to be really good” club. The scoring capability with him is real. Even if he shoots with a Dion Waiters-level of irrational confidence, high volume shooting on average efficiency is still better than low volume shooting on terrible efficiency, which was how Northwestern shot most of last year.

Jacob Brown

Regular Season record: 8-22 (2-18 Big Ten)

Postseason: None

MVP: AJ Turner

Breakout Player: Jared Jones

As Chris Collins has said on multiple occasions, Northwestern is a “young team” that has a lot of “room for growth.” I think NU has a lot of talent, but I just don’t see Collins running an efficient offense. If he wasn’t able to make things work with Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, it’s hard for me to believe that anything will get going with this year’s team.

I think AJ Turner makes a strong case for himself to get at least a G-League contract by leading the team in scoring and shooting the ball extremely well. Jared Jones shows out at the end of the season, and earns the starting role at the 5. Gaines and Miller also impress, but Nance, Beran, Young and Greer come up short of expectations, and NU ends up with one of the worst offenses in the country, losing almost all of their Big Ten games. (Sound familiar?)

William Karmin

Regular season record: 10-20 (4-16 Big Ten)

Postseason: CBI invite (Unsure if Northwestern would accept invitation)

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Boo Buie

There are two different scenarios in which this season will play out.

The first scenario (the most probable): Northwestern is horrible. NU will struggle to find building blocks for the future as few young players will showcase enough promising talent to create excitement. Additionally, the team could again lose a couple players after the season as transfers. Northwestern would win no more than three Big Ten games and fail to pick up a quality win in non-conference play in this iteration of the season. Obviously, it would not be fun.

The second scenario (the scenario I am cautiously optimistic for): Northwestern will play as a young, inspired, and hard-fought team. Some combination of Boo Buie, Pete Nance, Miller Kopp, Robbie Beran, and Anthony Gaines will prove to form a solid foundation of building blocks for the future. Wins and losses will be irrelevant. Regardless, the team will fight hard each night and take a couple top teams down to the wire, resulting in a fun and exciting team to watch.

It is extremely difficult to envision a path for this team to make the NCAA tournament (or even the NIT) but if the team comes close to making either, it will certainly be a successful year for Chris Collins and NU.

Mac Stone

Regular season: 14-16 (6-14 Big Ten)

Postseason: None

MVP: Anthony Gaines

Breakout player: Boo Buie

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m higher on this team than most. The ‘Cats have lost a whopping 65 percent of their offensive production from last season with the departures of Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, among others. That being said, I do expect that players who underperformed last year, such as Miller Kopp, will step up. I also expect Anthony Gaines to take a big leap forward.

Of course, this could all come crashing down. I’m usually overly optimistic on teams that I’m a fan of, and that could certainly be the case here. But hey, I’m willing to put my nonexistent credibility on the line in hopes that my “bold” prediction pays off.

Eli Karp

Regular Season record: 11-19 (4-16 Big Ten)

Postseason: None

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Boo Buie

We aren’t expecting much out of this squad, are we? It’s a rebuilding year with an awkward amount of depth that features some of the most talented recruits and young players in Northwestern’s history. That’s the key, though: they’re young. It’s obvious how much this team struggled on offense outside of Vic Law or Dererk Pardon last year, and a lot of how the offense will do rests on the point guard position, which was a gray area last season.

Anthony Gaines made strides last year on the offensive end to pair with his athletic defensive ability, but his team may demand more scoring than before. NU took a lot of jump shots last year, and missed a lot of jump shots last year. For an offense that has never been especially efficient under Chris Collins, the head coach has his work cut out for him.

The development of Kopp and Nance, who are almost quasi-veterans on this team, will be paramount to whether we can call this season a success, regardless of wins and losses. The Wildcats experienced a 10-game conference losing streak last year and won four B1G games, surely they can win four again this year.

Colin Kruse

Regular Season record: 11-19 (3-17 Big Ten)

Postseason: Nope

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Miller Kopp

Eli and I have pretty similar predictions going, although I think that the ‘Cats will manage three conference wins among Nebraska, Minnesota and perhaps an upset somewhere along the way. However, this young team has a lot of unknowns after the graduations of Dererk Pardon and Vic Law. Replacing that offensive production will be a challenge, so I expect that this team will experience a lot of growing pains in the face of a tough Big Ten schedule.

Ultimately, Chris Collins will do a lot of rotating and experimenting with the likes of Pat Spencer, Ryan Greer, and Boo Buie in the backcourt. I’m most excited to see the continued development of Miller Kopp and Pete Nance. Kopp will play a significant role on the offensive side of the ball as well, and after a difficult debut season, Nance will come into his own and adapt to Big Ten basketball.

If there is one thing this team will have going for it, the youth, heart and hustle of a squad without the weight of expectations of an established power could go a long way in picking up some wins. Nonetheless, progress rather than wins will be huge for Chris Collins’ group.

Claire Kuwana:

Regular Season record: 15-15 (5-15 B1G)

Postseason: None

MVP: Anthony Gaines

Breakout Player: Pat Spencer

It’s safe to say I am taking a more optimistic route than others in that I think that this team has a decent amount of potential. Obviously, they are rebuilding after losing both Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, but one thing that the ‘Cats really struggled with last year was finding a true point guard, and they might find that this year in new players like Boo Buie and Pat Spencer or in those coming back, like Ryan Greer.

On the flip side, this team is young and lacks experience. Though they may be able to overcome this against non-conference opponents, the Big Ten is not going to be a fun place for the ‘Cats this season. Unless we see real development this season from both new players and returners, I think they are going to struggle against a lot of the bigger, more talented teams, which will ultimately squash any chances of a postseason appearance.