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We’re watching the worst stretch of offense in the Chris Collins era

An official Inside NU investigation into just how bad it’s gotten.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Whether in articles or in comment sections, a lot of virtual ink has been spilled on this site about NU’s pitiful offense.

Vic Law has struggled recently. A.J. Turner was playing out of position for most of the season.

As Kevin Sweeney of WNUR and CBBCentral pointed out Wednesday night, Northwestern’s offensive sets languish without penetration.

All of this ties back to NU’s lack of guard depth. Anthony Gaines is the only remaining backcourt member from the classes of 2016 and 2017. Isiah Brown is at Grand Canyon. Johnnie Vassar is at Tennessee Tech. Matt Mooney escaped to Texas Tech. Jordan Lathon is at UTEP. Cormac Ryan is at Stanford. Jordan Ash is injured. The root of NU’s offensive problems stem from the lack of a lead guard.

After the 63-49 loss to Ohio State, Northwestern’s seventh loss in a row, I wasn’t so concerned with the why. I wanted to know just how bad the offense is.

So, is this seven-game stretch the worst offensive showing of the Chris Collins era?

(TL;DR — Yes. It’s in the headline, people.)

After watching countless hours of Northwestern football this fall, I only have a certain bandwidth remaining for feckless offense. The analysis below is pretty crude and simple, but worth explaining. I identified poor offensive performances by, well, less points and less wins. I found a stretch of at least five games for every year but 2016-17. This site intends to view that season through purple-tinted glasses, now and forever. It’s written down somewhere.

Anyways, I averaged NU’s points scored and field goal percentage from their worst offensive stretches. To augment the analysis, I baked in the Big Ten defensive efficiency ranking of NU’s opponents to sort of account for strength of schedule. The higher the number, the worse the defense.

Without further ado, the worst offensive runs of the Chris Collins era.

5. Feb. 10, 2018 to March 1, 2018


Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Maryland 57 0.333 12
Rutgers 58 0.377 9
Michigan State 60 0.375 3
Maryland 64 0.42 12
Wisconsin 64 0.489 10
Iowa 70 0.466 14
Penn State 57 0.414 7
61.43 0.41 9.57

The end of the Scottie Lindsey/Bryant McIntosh/Gavin Skelly era was pretty ugly. The offense lived and died by McIntosh and Lindsey, especially after Vic Law went down at the end of the Maryland game. When the two seniors delivered uneven performances, things got bad quickly. Still, the Wildcats scored at a reasonable clip compared to some of the following performances. This is definitely the best swoon of the five.

4. Jan. 16 to Jan. 31, 2016


Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Penn State 62 0.404 12
Maryland 56 0.348 2
Indiana 57 0.455 3
Michigan State 45 0.207 1
Iowa 71 0.419 5
58.2 0.37 4.6

If you’re one of the people who thinks the Collins offense lives and dies by its center, then this is the streak for you! The 2016 team was led by Tre Demps, Alex Olah and McIntosh, and part of this five-game slide can be explained by a few terrible games from Olah. However, this streak isn’t as bad as some of its companions because 1) it only lasted five games and 2) NU played four of the top five defenses in the conference. The Big Ten kinda sucked in 2016 and this dip wasn’t that big of a deal in Collins’ “breakout” year.

3. Dec. 30, 2014 to Feb. 10, 2015


Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Rutgers 47 0.39 12
Wisconsin 58 0.39 4
Michigan State 77 0.47 6
Illinois 67 0.46 5
Michigan 54 0.42 11
Ohio State 67 0.44 3
Maryland 67 0.45 1
Purdue 60 0.42 2
Nebraska 60 0.46 9
Wisconsin 50 0.40 4
Michigan State 44 0.36 6
59.18 0.42 5.73

Say hello to the longest stretch of terrible offense in this streak. We already knew Northwestern’s 10-game losing streak in 2015 was probably going to make the list. Honestly, I don’t want to give this streak too many demerits because it clearly had important development implications for guys like Bryant McIntosh. Defense was more of a problem for the 2015 team anyway. Still, my God, look at those numbers. Fifty-one points against the 12th-best defense in the conference? And NU won?

2. Feb. 1 to March 6, 2014


Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Minnesota 55 0.43 12
Nebraska 49 0.37 2
Michigan State 70 0.46 3
Minnesota 48 0.30 12
Ohio State 60 0.46 1
Indiana 56 0.41 6
Nebraska 47 0.33 2
Penn State 32 0.23 10
52.125 0.38 6

This stretch of ineptitude happened in Collins’ first season as a head coach and probably isn’t worth spending much time. Collins didn’t have many players he recruited in the program, and the talent level just wasn’t there yet. Plus, the 2013-14 Big Ten was one of the best iterations of the Collins era.

1. Jan. 26 to Feb. 20, 2019 (will it end?)


Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Opponent Points FG% Opponent B10 def. efficiency
Wisconsin 46 0.296 2
Maryland 52 0.31 4
Penn State 52 0.317 10
Iowa 79 0.518 14
Rutgers 56 0.36 12
Nebraska 50 0.345 11
Ohio State 49 0.316 5
54.86 0.35 8.29

Here we are. The worst stretch of offense in the Collins era. The 2019 team boasts a higher scoring average during their respective clankfest, but faced worse opponents and shot a lower percentage from the field. Plus, this team has all of Collins’ guys, including four of the five most highly-rated players to ever commit to Northwestern.

The not-so-subtle inference behind this analysis is that Collins is running into the same problems he was six seasons ago. He has his players, his system and scores of games against Big Ten defenses, but still, at least once a year, you can bet on the Wildcats enduring a prolonged stretch of offensive incompetency.

The defense isn’t half-bad, though.