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Northwestern men’s basketball season predictions 2020-2021

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This schedule is tough, and our staff knows it.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament-Northwestern vs Minnesota Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern men’s basketball is just two days away from the start of its 2020-2021 season. After a rough 2019-2020 campaign in which the Wildcats finished second to last in the Big Ten with an 8-23 overall record, NU looks to redeem itself but will have to overcome some fierce opponents to climb the ranks in the Big Ten.

Here’s a look what our staffers expect from NU this season.

Lia Assimakopoulos

Regular season record: 6-18 (3-17 B1G)

Postseason: Gonna have to say no here...

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Ty Berry

Northwestern wasn’t blessed with an easy schedule this year, and in an extremely competitive Big Ten, the Wildcats will likely remain in a similar position as they were last year. The nonconference should be no problem for the most part, except for Pitt, but NU very well may open Big Ten play with eight straight losses, if not more.

Top-10 giants Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, all of which Northwestern faces twice, just seem unbeatable for the ‘Cats at this point. With four other ranked teams and a total 13 preseason top-25 matchups on its schedule, NU will have to pull off some incredible upsets to come out of conference play with more than three or four wins.

Eli Karp

Regular season record: 7-17 (4-16 B1G)

Postseason: Nada

MVP: Boo Buie

Breakout Player: Chase Audige

The Wildcats may be better this year. In fact, I think they will be. But they won’t improve more than the Big Ten has gotten more difficult from 2019-20. It’s a damn deep league, and playing a short non-con warmup slate doesn’t really help a team get into form before hitting the heavyweights. NU has seven matchups against teams ranked in the top 15 and six more against top-25 opponents.

Sure, the talent is there, and Chris Collins continues to recruit well. But that hasn’t translated into on-court success in nearly four years. NU must find a way to become more efficient on offense, and that involves running sets that gets players in higher-percentage areas near the basket. It also involves having players that can create their own shots when things break down.

The good news is that with such a stacked schedule, Northwestern will have plenty of opportunities for a signature win.

Daniel Olinger

Regular season record: 6-18 (3-17 B1G)

Postseason: What do you think?

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Ty Berry

For a team’s whose prospects already seemed bleak going into the 2020-21 season, the powers that be in the Big Ten certainly didn’t do them any favors. Northwestern, picked to finish last more than any other team in the conference, gets to face the consensus 11-13th place predicted finishers (Minnesota, Penn State, Nebraska) a grand total of one time each.

Meanwhile, the ‘Cats match up with each of the following seven teams twice — preseason AP No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Illinois, No. 13 Michigan State, No. 23 Ohio State, No. 25 Michigan and Indiana (who if the rankings extended out would come in as the AP’s 30th best preseason team). Perhaps it’s some sort of recompense the program has been dealt in return for this glorious football season, but geez, that is a murder’s row of opponents. Throw in their scheduled game against No. 24 Rutgers, and 15 out of Northwestern’s 24 games pit them on the court against top-30 squads.

As for individual players, Miller Kopp — despite being a limited athlete relative to his competition and not being a functional left-handed dribbler — is far and away the best player on the team. He can shoot three off of movement at a high level, which behind off the dribble creation is the most important things in modern basketball. I’m also optimistic that Ty Berry starts by the end of the season, as his buttery smooth shooting stroke and ability to pass out of the pick-and-roll profiles him as an offensive weapon Northwestern hasn’t had the past two seasons. Overall, this will be a better team in a vacuum than what they were in 2019-20, but marginal improvement can only do so much at this gauntlet of a schedule.

Colin Kruse

Regular season record: 5-19 (2-18 B1G)

Postseason: That’s a negative, Ghost Rider

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Chase Audige

This Big Ten schedule is going to be tough with two matchups each against some of the better teams in the Big Ten. The ‘Cats could be winless in conference play when they get on the plane to Happy Valley on January 23 to play Penn State. In the preceding month, Chris Collins’s squad will face No. 13 Michigan State, Indiana, No. 23 Ohio State, No. 5 Iowa, No. 25 Michigan, No. 8 Michigan State, Ohio State again and Iowa again. Christ above.

Minnesota, Penn State and Nebraska are all winnable games for Northwestern, but this season, much like last season, will be a character-building year for this incredibly young and inexperienced team.

Miller Kopp is probably this team’s best scorer and go-to option. Boo Buie could also assume this role but needs to be a little more efficient with his shot selection. Chase Audige is an intelligent and athletic defender and probably the successor to Anthony Gaines as NU’s best perimeter defender. His development, along with that of Buie, Robbie Beran, Ty Berry and Ryan Young, into a core which can elevate Northwestern out of the conference’s cellar in 2021-22 will be a major sign of progress for the program.

Mac Stone

Regular season record: 5-19 (2-18 B1G)

Postseason: You’re joking, right?

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout player: Ty Berry

Last season, I was more optimistic than most for men’s basketball, and predicted them to go 14-16. That did not happen.

The conference schedule this year is absolutely brutal. The ‘Cats face teams like Illinois and Iowa twice this year while seeing fellow bottom feeders Nebraska and Penn State just once. The nonconference schedule should hopefully be a cake walk, but a loss against Pitt is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Overall, I’m just hoping to see some sort of progression out of the team this season. Miller Kopp will most likely be the Wildcats’ No. 1 scorer, while guys like Ryan Young and hopefully Pete Nance will be able to add to that. Chase Audige is a solid defender, as is Anthony Gaines, but I just don’t know if the Wildcats have the talent to compete in the Big Ten. I’m already having nightmares about Luka Garza.

Jacob Brown

Regular season record: 3-21 (1-19 B1G)

Postseason: LMAO

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Ty Berry

This team is really not good. I see them losing the to Pitt in the non-con slate, but also losing an easy one to Chicago State.

There’s just too many loose ends on this team to compete in the Big Ten. Nance, Beran, Young and Buie all showed signs of promise last year, but can they put it together on a consistent basis? I doubt it, and I don’t think NU’s coaching staff is strong enough to bring the most out of the talent on this roster.

It’s going to be an ugly season, but I’d really like to see big rolls for Ryan Young, Ty Berry and Robbie Beran. NU is adding a lot of talent next year. If they can develop Berry and Beran into legit Big Ten starters to combine with Miller Kopp, a boost of energy from Casey Simmons could propel the ‘Cats towards a solid campaign. This year isn’t going to be pretty, but with enough player development, it can serve as a phenomenal stepping stone for the program.

Claire Kuwana

Regular season record: 6-18 (3-18 B1G)

Postseason: No :(

MVP: Ryan Young

Breakout Player: Chase Audige

The ‘Cats have a really tough lineup in the Big Ten this season, especially to start off. As Michael pointed out in his thoughts on the schedule, of their first eight games, seven of Northwestern’s opponents are ranked. And considering the conference is expected to be particularly strong this year, with a number of teams in the Top 25 of the AP Preseason Poll, there is no room for error in these Big Ten games.

I think that player development is always a concern for this team, and ultimately it will determine whether or not they are successful. I can’t say I have high hopes for Collins’ coaching or his ability to help players reach their full potential, but nonetheless, I think that this team has talent in players like Kopp, Young, Nance and Buie — the question is whether or not they evolve enough to hold their own in Big Ten play.

Liam Warin

Regular season record: 12-12 (8-12 B1G)

Postseason: Might sneak in?

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Ty Berry

The Big Ten is better this year than maybe ever before, with notable analysts picking over 10 teams to make the NCAA tournament. That being said, it’s hard to see Northwestern being one of them — and, as you can tell from the rest of the predictions, I am more optimistic than most. The ‘Cats have 12 matchups against ranked opponents, including matchups against a flaming hot Luke Garza and No. 5 Iowa and two matchups against a No. 8 Illinois team that beat its first two opponents by a combined margin of 121 points.

The good thing for Northwestern is that they are returning back the majority of their core from last year. Losing only Pat Spencer and A.J. Turner, the ‘Cats will look to nurture young talent in Miller Kopp, Chase Audige and Boo Buie en route to a surprising Big Ten record that I believe will include upsets over Illinois and Wisconsin. The make-or-break question for the year is if the talent that is apparent in the roster translates to in-game production in key Big Ten games that will decide Northwestern’s potential NCAA hopes. I believe coach Collins will find a way to make this young time blend and play together en route to a surprising season for the ‘Cats that leads to a potential March Madness berth.

Didi Jin

Regular season record: 10-14 (6-14 B1G)

Postseason: Maybe next pandemic

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Pete Nance

If this year’s schedule wasn’t so challenging, I honestly think that Northwestern could go closer to .500 in conference play. But unfortunately, like everyone else has pointed out, the ‘Cats have one of the most difficult schedules of any team in the Big Ten, which includes—but is not limited to — two matchups each against No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 8 Illinois.

That being said, this team should make significant strides from last season. I think that most starters from last season will show varying levels of improvement, with Pete Nance making the biggest jump if he has developed a consistent three-point shot. I also have a lot of faith in Ty Berry, and I think that if he can shoot the ball like he did in high school, he has the potential to make the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten looks like the most competitive conference in the country again, which likely means another ugly season for Northwestern. However, I do believe it’ll get its revenge against Pitt and start the season 4-0 before the losses start to pile up.

William Karmin

Regular season record: 11-13 (7-13 B1G)

Postseason: I ask this in all seriousness: Is the NIT happening this year?

MVP: Miller Kopp

Breakout Player: Boo Buie

After a quick Google search, I have discovered that the NIT does, in fact, plan on occurring this season. So with the opportunity of being the only writer to predict an NU postseason appearance, I will say that NU makes the NIT.

More than anything, Northwestern needs to complete this upcoming basketball season with building blocks for the future. Boo Buie needs to play more consistent basketball in order to become an upper-echelon starting point guard in the Big Ten. Either Pete Nance or Robbie Beran needs to develop a consistent jump shot and become a true threat in the post. And Miller Kopp will need to progress from Northwestern’s clearcut best player to one of the best players in the conference.

If all four of those players progress, NU has a shot at making the tournament. I will hedge and say that two of those players make the necessary leaps in the 2021 season allowing Northwestern to make the NIT which should give NU fans optimism going forward.