It has almost been a week since the Big Ten Opener loss to Purdue. The ‘Cats hung in there for nearly 35 minutes and gave fans some hope to begin conference play despite a lackluster offensive performance ultimately dragging them down. Before facing MSU on Wednesday, Northwestern (4-4) will host SIU-Edwardsville (2-7), who is currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
Here are three storylines to follow going into Sunday’s matchup:
Will Pat Spencer bounce back after two disappointing outing?
It sure looked like Pat Spencer was the best player on this Northwestern team after two phenomenal games against Bradley and Pitt. Unfortunately, what followed were two disappointing performances against Boston College and Purdue. The former lacrosse star scored 6 against BC and was held scoreless against Purdue, losing minutes to Boo Buie along the way.
It is obvious that Spencer is one of the most athletic players on the court and that seemed enough against lesser competition. He needs more refinement and better decision making when facing Big Ten-caliber players, though, especially if he wants to keep his starting role on this team.
Spencer should use this game as a confidence booster heading into Wednesday’s matchup against Michigan State. It is crucial for Northwestern’s offense to have a smart and stable ball handler on court at all times, and Spencer should be able to pick things up against the struggling Cougars.
Can Northwestern showcase dominance against SIUE?
This Northwestern season has been a roller coaster so far, with the “Cats losing to teams like Merrimack and Radford but then cruising past teams like Providence and Bradley.
SIUE is by far the worst team NU has faced all season, though, and it should be expected that the ‘Cats dominate the Cougars on both ends of the floor. To make clear just how bad they are: SIUE is 342nd out of 353 D1 squads in KenPom. In their last matchup, all the way back on December 4th, they handed woeful Chicago State (351st in KenPom) their first true road win in 54 (!) tries, stopping them three short of a share of the D! men’s basketball record.
Northwestern’s defense has been steady for the most part, but it is their offense that will determine if this game will end in a blowout fashion or, like earlier contests, come down unnecessarily close to the wire. With only two games remaining against out-of-conference opponents, the ‘Cats need to take care of business tomorrow against one of the worst SIUE teams in recent memory.
Will Robbie Beran establish himself as the primary backup center?
Ryan Young has looked solid all around through the start of this season and is, without a doubt, the best center on this roster. With Young averaging 26.3 minutes in a solid if not dominant starting role, though, the ‘Cats need a steady presence off the bench.
Chris Collins has been giving minutes to both Jared Jones and Robbie Beran in that role so far this season. Jones struggled mightily against Purdue, racking up 4 fouls in only 3 minutes of playing time. Beran, on the other hand, provided some good minutes for the ‘Cats in the second half as he stretched the floor out for Northwestern’s offense.
Both true freshman centers lack experience and need to polish their games throughout the season, but it is encouraging to see Beran being able to back Young against Big Ten competition. If the former four-star recruit can keep shooting the ball well and continue making improvements on defense, he can be a game-changing stretch 4/5.
Northwestern takes on SIUE at 3:00 p.m Sunday afternoon in Evanston. Stay tuned as we bring you live coverage from Welsh-Ryan.