As the Wildcats prepare to kick off Big Ten play against Purdue, let’s take a look at what this team has shown so far this season:
Versatility on defense
The ‘Cats have experimented with a few different types of defense this season, including some unusual zone looks, but overall have been able to manage their opponents no matter the defense they operate in.
Against Boston College this past week, NU’s individual defense kept the Eagles from ever getting into a groove on offense and was crucial to the win. Similarly, the same man-to-man defense led the ‘Cats to a win over Norfolk State, who they shut out for a 6:30 stretch after adjusting their defense from zone to man.
On the other hand, Northwestern was able to come out on top against Providence at the start of the season mainly due to the zone defense that was implemented. The ‘Cats were able to use their length and flexibility to thwart the Providence offense, proving that they are able to execute various styles on the defensive end. This adaptability will be key during Big Ten play as the Wildcats adjust to each team they face, changing their defense to match their opponent’s offense.
For such a young team, this is to be expected, but the ‘Cats are lucky that players such as Miller Kopp and Pete Nance, along with players like Ryan Young and Boo Buie, have been able to step up this season. Kopp and Nance both have a year of playing under their belt, and even though this experience is limited, they have proven to be assets on both sides of the court.
Kopp and Nance both lead the ‘Cats in points and minutes played this season — Kopp with 88 points and 196 minutes, and Nance with 81 points and 217 minutes. Nance also leads the team in rebounds by a large margin (54), and Kopp leads in FGs with 30 made. Heading into conference play, these two will need to continue to lead the team well if the ‘Cats want to compete.
Pat Spencer as a breakout player
For a team that has struggled with point guards in the past, the addition of Pat Spencer has been critical for the Northwestern offense. The former lacrosse star has proven to be a dynamic threat on offense. He leads the squad with 31 assists (18 more than the player behind him) and has the second most FGs at 29.
Having Spencer as a leader in the back court could mean a lot for this young team as Big Ten play begins. He has had some standout performances so far this season — during the Fort Myers Tipoff, he led the team in both minutes and points — and will likely serve as the ‘Cats’ go-to for ball handling.
Honorable mentions: Ryan Young, Boo Buie’s last two games, bench minutes
This one is pretty self-explanatory. A quick look at NU’s schedule shows wins over Providence and Boston College alongside losses to Merrimack and Radford. For context, Providence followed the loss to Northwestern with a 93-56 win over Merrimack.
Most of this inconsistency stems from the offense, a unit that sometimes shows flashes of Big Ten level basketball, but is also often unable to produce at all. Nonetheless, the ‘Cats put up a season-high 82 points against Boston College, and how well they keep up this momentum really depends on if they move the ball safely and efficiently.
This season, the Wildcats are shooting 31 percent from the three point line and only 43 percent overall from the floor. That’s not good enough. During the loss against Radford, the ‘Cats ended with a FG percentage of just 32 and made just 14 percent of their three point attempts. Unless shot placement and decision-making improve dramatically, we will likely see Northwestern struggle to put up points against conference opponents.
Again, self-explanatory with a glance at the 2019-20 roster. With only one senior (and a redshirt junior), the lineup this season does not scream experience. Senior A.J. Turner is solid in the backcourt, and junior Anthony Gaines has always been an asset to the ‘Cats, but it is impossible to say that this team hasn’t looked to Nance and Kopp, along with Spencer (who is essentially a freshman in the college basketball world), to contribute.
Additionally, freshmen Boo Buie, Robbie Beran and Jared Jones have all seen a fair amount of playing time this season. Though they have impressed so far, this young Northwestern team is going to have to develop quickly to keep up with the fast and physical play of the Big Ten.
Honorable mentions: turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, losing to Merrimack, losing to Radford, turnovers, turnovers, consistency, Jared Jones