After looking like a solid Big Ten team in its domination of Bradley, Northwestern had a pretty poor performance in their follow-up against Pitt. While the ‘Cats continued to show that they likely won’t have the best year, they gave some indication of the manner in which the season will progress during the Thanksgiving tournament. Three main takeaways follow:
Pat Spencer is Northwestern’s best player
Spencer led NU in minutes and points in both contests. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Spencer is this talented, given that he was the nation’s best college lacrosse player last season, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted Spencer to develop his basketball intuition to the level it is at this quickly.
Yes, he does have some spots in which he looks similar to a freshman, especially on the defensive end, but he’s fun to watch and is a dynamic offensive talent, which can’t be said for most of this Northwestern team. Spencer has shown that he is the best player on this roster by a wide margin, and he’ll be the guy that the ‘Cats turn to as their primary ball handler and scorer going forward this season.
Northwestern needs Pete Nance and Miller Kopp to find some consistency
As Collins has stated multiple times, this is a young Northwestern team that is aiming to have a solid developmental year. Looking at the roster, if the ‘Cats want to compete in the future, it’s going to have to be on the backs of Pete Nance, Miller Kopp and Robbie Beran.
Boo Buie, Jared Jones and Ty Berry can certainly be strong role players, but NU’s future is likely to be determined by the success or failure of their three shooters. Beran is raw, and as he only got 14 minutes per game stuck in the rotation with Young, Nance and Jones, it’s going to be hard to make a judgement on him this season (especially if Nance’s season pre-mono time last year was any indication of how Collins plans to use his freshman).
Nance and Kopp, though, are going to give a strong indication of who they will be throughout their careers over the course of this season. Kopp is shooting 46 percent from the field on the season, which isn’t great. However, he’s shooting a solid 42 percent from behind the arc.
Nothing has been particularly great or awful about Kopp’s game other than his shooting percentage, but after having a strong 2018-2019 season, many expected him to function as the primary scorer for this NU team, which he hasn’t been. For the Cats to succeed, Kopp needs to get his shooting percentage up and increase his scoring volume while doing so.
Nance has also been hot and cold thus far. His shooting percentage has been poor all season, as he’s hitting only 39 percent of his looks, but even with his shooting woes, he leads the team with 12 points per game. That’s because the majority of his scoring has come in streaks.
He had dominant performances against Radford and Norfolk State, scoring 16 and 17 points respectively. Then, though, he seemingly lost his stroke against Bradley and Pitt, scoring seven points on 3-9 shooting in 26 minutes against Bradley, and 5 points on 2-9 shooting in 33 minutes against Pitt.
Nance has shown some signs of confidence this year that he didn’t last year. He has shown the ability to step out and hit the three in addition to using his large stature in the post. The formerly highly-touted recruit still has to figure out how to adjust his game based on matchups and develop consistency, though, in order to fully become the leader on and off the court that is needed in Evanston.
The underclassmen need minutes
Chris Collins has kept the same starting five all year, but has had continuous changes with his bench. While the starting group and its minutes have remained relatively consistent, Collins has played around with when and how he uses everybody else.
AJ Turner, though he is having a pretty poor season, leads the bench with 114 minutes on the season, followed by Buie with 98, Beran with 83 and Jones with 44. I understand that Collins is doing what he can to optimize his lineups this year, turning to the veteran Turner to provide minutes in the backcourt.
But this season has to be about developing the underclassmen. Buie, Beran and Jones have all shown signs of promise, as well as Kopp, Nance and Young in the starting lineup. Yes, it makes sense for Collins to keep trying different groups of players to win games, but he has to keep the end goal in mind. The younger players need minutes to take the steps forward that will allow them to contribute in the future, and that should start tonight.