Northwestern’s 13-19 season is fading away in the rearview mirror. Before we wave goodbye, here’s what our staff will remember from the 2018-19 season:
Davis Rich: The misses
This was the season of the bricked jump shot. There were doinks. There were clanks. There were thuds. Time and time again, Northwestern faded down the stretch and couldn’t make the shot it needed most. Ryan Taylor just missed 30-footers against Michigan and Indiana that could have changed the momentum of NU’s season back in December. Vic Law couldn’t find the rim on a last-second three as Northwestern lost at home to Rutgers. Minutes after a Brad Davison jumper fell in after bouncing on the rim for an eternity, Aaron Falzon barely missed what would have been a game-tying three against Wisconsin.
NU’s defense kept it in almost every game it played in. But a lack of offensive dynamism and shot-making ability felled the Wildcats over and over.
Noah Coffman: Inability to consistently execute offensively
Under Chris Collins, the hallmark of Northwestern basketball has been team defense. But this season took offensive ineptitude to a new low. During their ten game losing streak, the Wildcats embarked on an unprecedented run of unsuccessful offensive execution, and when Vic Law wasn’t making tough shots, Northwestern almost always looked lost when trying to score.
The struggles were certainly due to a mixture of factors, which have been thoroughly discussed this season. But looking at things from a big picture standpoint, if this how poorly Northwestern executed with two of the best players in program history running the show, how bad will things get next year? If Chris Collins wants to rebuild this program, he’s going to have to turn the offense around, and that just doesn’t look very likely right now.
Caleb Friedman: Northwestern has a long way to go to be relevant again
Basically, my takeaway is what I wrote in this story. Northwestern loses its two best players and several other contributors next season, so it seems implausible that the Wildcats will be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Big Ten is getting better from top to bottom, and that has left NU behind a bit given Chris Collins’s issues with roster construction. There’s a path for Northwestern to be good in two years, but it’s contingent on a lot of things happening. Miller Kopp and Pete Nance need to become impact guys. Collins needs to find another competent point guard and a big. Player development needs to be better. Future recruiting classes have to hit. That’s a lot of things. For that reason, it’s difficult for me to see things getting much better soon.
Graham Brennan: Northwestern needs playmakers
This Northwestern season taught me that Chris Collins needs to do a whole lot more than implement a 4-out, ball-movement oriented offense if Northwestern is going to win in the Big Ten. At the beginning of the season, I was excited by the prospect of the 2018-2019 Northwestern basketball season because Chris Collins had the tools to implement a modern offense and the Northwestern roster was made up of long wings capable of stroking it from deep.
A major problem for the 2018-2019 Wildcats, however, was their inability to put the ball in the hoop. Northwestern finished dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and field goal percentage. It finished third-to-last in three-point percentage.
The Wildcats need a playmaker or two. They need someone who can consistently break opposing defenders down off the dribble. Outside of Vic Law, no 2018-2019 Wildcat could do that. Northwestern needs an offensively gifted guard to initiate its offense. Cormac Ryan and/or Jordan Lathon would have been that player. To make it worse, Northwestern doesn’t figure to have said player on the roster next season.
Collins needs to either recruit players who can create their own shot or he needs to coach them into becoming capable ball handlers and shot-creators. If he cannot do that, someone, namely Jim Phillips (or a new AD should Philips be named Big Ten Commissioner), needs to re-evaluate Collins and more generally, the state of the Northwestern Men’s Basketball program.
Eli Karp: This is Anthony Gaines’ team next year
I won’t repeat what was already said — we know the offense was rough. Often overlooked during the team’s struggles this year was the improvement of Anthony Gaines. Gaines was known, and still is primarily known, as a defensive player. However, he put in a lot of work to round out his skillset. He averaged nine more minutes per game than last season and handled the ball much more than before while continuing to defend well. I’m not sitting here saying Gaines is going to average 15 to 20 points per game, but Vic Law and Dererk Pardon will be gone, and they accounted for 29 points per game. They were the only players to average double-figure scoring. A.J. Turner will play a significant role in the offense, and based on the development down the stretch from Miller Kopp there’s reason to believe he will do the same, but Gaines has quietly shown, as he likes to go about his business, that he can and should be the team’s leader next year. For now, though, it’s back to the weight room so he can continue putting up some more highlights like this next year:
Brett Haensel: NU wasted Dererk Pardon’s final season
Losing sucks for everybody involved, but it felt particularly heart-wrenching to watch Dererk Pardon endure defeat after defeat this season. As reliable of a player you’ll find in college basketball, Pardon delivered consistent double-doubles and willed his team back into games again and again when seemingly no one else could get their shot to fall. And his reward? A first-round exit from the Big Ten Tournament and just four conference wins the entire season.
I’ve found myself thinking recently about how far Pardon could have taken a program with a competent supporting cast and quality shooters given his noticeable elevation of a team that had the opposite. There are few things sadder in sports than watching a star languish on a team bereft of talent. Much like Kevin Love on the Timberwolves, the stuffed box scores and individual accolades and praise feel like they only went so far. The program will be soul-searching without him.
Zach Harris: A season of inches
This team is better than its record shows. In the beginning of conference play, after the Indiana and Michigan losses, I remember thinking to myself, “At some point in the year the ball will bounce Northwestern’s way and the team will win some of these close games.”
Well, as we all know, that didn’t happen. There were only a few times this year where I thought the team was simply outmatched: Purdue, at Michigan game, and at Michigan. In just about every other game, the team gave itself a chance to win but couldn’t pull it out. The season-ending loss to Illinois speaks to that.
I was optimistic coming into the season. I convinced myself that perimeter depth would make up for the point guard issues, and my expectations for Pete Nance were high. I was wrong on both fronts. It’s even harder to be optimistic about the program now, though. All of Pete Nance, Miller Kopp, Anthony Gaines and A.J. Turner need to make massive strides in the offseason for the team to be competitive next year. That’s not the tallest of tasks, though, as they all flashed the types of players they could blossom into at various points in the year.