It’s no secret that the 2019-20 Northwestern men’s basketball season has been a disappointment thus far. While the expectations coming into the year were low, few could’ve predicted the mid-major meltdowns, the late-game collapses and the deep despondency displayed throughout the season.
A dark cloud has descended on the program, and it may not be going away anytime soon. A few rays of sunshine have shone through said cloud, however, providing glimmers of hope for the future. Behold, our midseason stock up, stock down for Northwestern men’s basketball (6-13, 1-8 B1G):
While Buie has missed five games in the past month due to a stress fracture in his foot, it appears Chris Collins and Co. may have found a diamond in the rough, as his play prior to injury was nothing short of spectacular.
Buie, a true freshman, has scored 20 or more points in three games this season. Against Boston College, the point guard dropped 20 points on 8-9 shooting. Buie came close to bringing Northwestern back from the dead in their home loss to Michigan State, where he scored 26 and sparked a late run.
According to KenPom.com, Buie is Northwestern’s only “go-to guy”, meaning during times when he is in the game, he is the only player to be used on greater than 28% of NU’s possessions. It’s very clear that Buie has carved out a major role on the roster, and it’s one we could see him in for the foreseeable future.
As mentioned previously, there weren’t many expectations for this season, other than player development. From what has been seen on the court, it appears many players are improving as the season trudges onward.
Following a slow start to the year, Miller Kopp has led the ‘Cats in scoring in three of their last five games. Pete Nance has faded a bit, but started the season strong and will hopefully return to his previous level of play. Ryan Young, a first-year, has been a bit inconsistent, but has flashed massive potential. Last but not least, how could anyone forget the mesmerizing play of Boo Buie earlier this year? All of these are names to look out for next season, and are starting to get fans just a tad giddy for the future.
Oddly enough, Northwestern has done a very solid job at limiting turnovers. The ‘Cats are currently posting a 16.4% turnover rate, good enough for 27th in all of college basketball, according to KenPom.com. This statistic is far and away Northwestern’s best on the offensive side of the ball, and is one of the few bright spots this team has had with any measure of consistency, aside from individual play.
Who remembers Oprah’s car giveaways?
I mean, I don’t, I’m only 19 and I’ve never watched Oprah. However, I do know the quote from that famous clip, and I believe it goes something like this:
“You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!”
Well, Northwestern men’s basketball has taken this quote, having ripped it straight out of Oprah’s mouth, and modified it a bit to address the mid-major teams that were on their schedule this season. Here’s what they told these teams:
“You get a win! And you get a win! And you get a win!”
Was that a long setup for a mediocre joke? Absolutely. However, Northwestern has lost to not one, not two, but THREE mid-major teams in this season alone. The ‘Cats opened the year with a loss to Merrimack, a team playing their first ever season of division one basketball. Their second mid-major loss came to Radford, who currently sits at 11-9. Their final mid-major loss came to Hartford, a team presently ranked No. 269 in KenPom. Yikes. Good for them, I guess?
Honorable Mentions: Pat Spencer’s Big Ten play, Miller Kopp, that one conference win vs. Nebraska, the coziness of the bottom of the Big Ten standings, NU women’s basketball, the band, the band playing “Bad Guy”
Chris Collins’ job security
This stock could totally be turned into a joke, but it’s legitimately sincere. Chris Collins’ seat is getting warmer with each loss. A flame has been lit, and it’s beginning to burn bright.
Collins is no stranger to having his coaching be called into question. It harkens back to the 2017-18 season where, after making the Big Dance the previous year, the ‘Cats had legitimate expectations. They returned their top three scorers in Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsay and had decent depth. All in all, they appeared to be headed back to March Madness. Instead, they flatlined, going 15-17 overall and 6-12 in conference play.
This season, the woes began with Merrimack. Then Radford. Then Hartford. Then came the late collapses against DePaul, Indiana, Ohio State, etc. This team is young, yes, but these types of losses are unacceptable in the long term. If these struggles carry over to next year, the coaching carousel might just be headed to Evanston, no matter how much young talent Collins has amassed.
Student attendance and lack of school spirit
Is the team struggling? Yes. There’s no doubt about that. Does Northwestern’s extreme academic workload potentially impact students going to games? Absolutely. Even when students do attend games, however, they just… sit down. They’re dead silent. When a ranked team is in town (Iowa, for example), the arena is quiet.
As a fellow student and longtime Northwestern fan, the current level of school spirit is unfortunate. And a lot of it is due to the team’s current struggles, but things have really gone downhill in a hurry in the student section.
Onto the next stock.
The 2019-20 iteration of Northwestern’s defense is among the worst of the Chris Collins era. The Wildcats currently ranked 139th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, which would be the second-worst mark of any Collins team, and a big part of it is their lack of ability to force turnovers.
The turnover rate of NU opponents is just 16.8 percent, putting the Wildcats 311th in the nation in that category. Worse still, Northwestern’s steal rate is a lowly 6.8 percent, good for 332nd. To put that in perspective, Veronica Burton’s personal steal rate is 6.0 percent (the NUWBB team rate is 13.4 percent). The Wildcats don’t create nearly enough turnovers, and they almost never create live-ball giveaways. It takes away any opportunity for fast breaks, consistently allows opponents to get settled in, and cripples team defense.
The Culver’s “Crazy for Custard” Fan Cam
Look, I know this may seem dumb, but this thing is clearly rigged. Every single time this fan cam appears on the Welsh-Ryan scoreboard, the prize is always given to some kid flossing or doing some other stupid Fortnite dance. The prize, for those who don’t know, is free Culver’s custard for the entire row that the selected fan is seated in, and maybe if they gave it to students more often, we could kill two birds with one stone! (Ok, probably not.)
Honorable Mentions: Projections for the rest of the season, three-point shooting, halftime performances, food prices, Wilson Club members, offensive execution, defensive execution