It hasn’t taken long for the biggest question facing this 2019-20 Northwestern men’s basketball team to emerge. Through ten games, Chris Collins has what could be a major decision to make.
Who is going to be the team’s starting point guard moving into the meat of conference play: Pat Spencer, or Boo Buie?
Before getting into the nitty gritty of the point guard battle, it should be said that the fact that this is the team’s biggest question at this point in the season signals the program is headed in the right direction. You wouldn’t know by comparing records (the Wildcats were 7-3 at this point last year), but this Northwestern team feels as if it’s playing a much more exciting and confident style of basketball than it was last season, even if the wins aren’t coming yet.
Specifically, Northwestern’s back court is in a much better position than it was at this time in 2019. Seeing as last year’s team essentially operated without a true point guard for the entire season, it was never going to be incredibly challenging for NU to get better back court play. However, ten games in, it’s safe to say that the state of the point guard position has exceeded preseason expectations.
Chris Collins has two solid PGs to choose from in Pat Spencer and Boo Buie – each of whom have displayed their scoring/playmaking ability at various points across the course of the season.
Spencer vs. Buie
|Stat||Pat Spencer||Boo Buie|
|Stat||Pat Spencer||Boo Buie|
|Points per game||9.6||9.1|
|Assists per game||3.8||1.9|
|Rebounds per game||3.4||1.4|
|Steals per game||1||0.5|
|Turnovers per game||2.5||1.6|
|Minutes per game||25.2||19.4|
Spencer has started every game at point guard for NU this season, and the first few games of the season showed us why. While Buie struggled out of the gates as a true freshman, missing open shots and looking a little lost in the offense overall, Spencer looked liked a natural point guard with command of things on both sides of the ball.
Despite not having played organized basketball since high school, the former lacrosse star looked ready to become the clear-cut lead guard for this team. Apart from a scoreless night against Norfolk State, the case could be made that Spencer was Northwestern’s best player for the first stretch of the season, all the way up until Thanksgiving.
He reached double digit scoring in four of his first six games, while also dishing out a respectable 4.67 assists per contest. Spencer stole the show at the 2019 Fort Myers Tip-Off, averaging 20.5 PPG across two games and nearly carrying NU to an upset win over Pitt. Starting Spencer at the point seemed like a no-brainer based on the first few weeks of the year.
But ever since Florida, the spotlight has been Buie’s.
After looking like an inexperienced true freshman out of the gates, the Georgia native has emerged as one of the team’s greatest offensive threats, and he’s put together two of the stronger individual performances of any NU player all season.
His 8-for-9, 20-point effort helped NU seal a much-needed road win at Boston College earlier this month, and just this past Wednesday, Buie’s 26-point outburst kept the Wildcats in the game until the very end against a top-15 Michigan State team. That’s tied for the highest individual scoring for any NU player since Vic Law in the second game of last season against American.
Both guards have been far from perfect, still struggling mightily with turnovers and ballhandling at times. Nonetheless, both have proved capable of creating their own shots and scoring in bunches when called upon, making it quite evident that Chris Collins has two dynamic scorers available to him at the position.
The true freshman’s play these past few weeks has gotten up to par with, and perhaps even surpassed what Spencer showed earlier in the season. With that in mind, Collins has an important decision to make regarding the direction of this team moving forward.
The grad transfer may come off as the “safer” start given that he’s seen more action thus far, but for a team whose season goals center more around youth development than competing for a spot in the postseason, why not start Buie? So what if it costs Northwestern a few slow starts or even a few extra games?
As great and fun of a story the former lacrosse star has been, he’ll be gone this time next season, whereas Buie has a bright three seasons ahead with the ‘Cats. Throwing him into the fire as a starter now will begin to groom the freshman into the elite Big Ten point guard Northwestern fans would be delighted to see a few seasons down the road.