Northwestern men’s basketball opened their season Wednesday against nonconference opponent Arkansas-Pine Bluff and blew the Golden Lions out of the water in a 92-49 win. Now sitting at 1-0 on the year, here are three things we learned from the dominant performance.
Backcourt shooting is much improved
The ‘Cats shot just 41.6% from the field in 2019-20, ranking 289th in the nation. Much of that was due to inconsistent guard shooting, particularly from beyond the arc. Fortunately for NU, they may have found the guys to help shore up that issue in Chase Audige and Ty Berry.
Audige finished with 16 points off of 6-of-12 shooting from the field and showed why he deserves to remain in the starting lineup. The sophomore William & Mary transfer was able to provide consistent scoring for the ‘Cats throughout most of the game and ended up 3-of-8 from three-point range.
For Berry, he showed why he garnered so much attention in recruitment by putting up 15 points in his debut. The true freshman mostly played minutes in the second half when the ‘Cats had all but secured the victory, but he lit it up in his time on the floor. The former four-star recruit shot 3-for-4 from three-point range and seemed to become more confident as the game went on.
If these two guards along with sophomore Boo Buie can continue to shoot efficiently from the floor, the program’s rebuild may be faster than anticipated.
The Wildcats demonstrated defensive prowess
Arkansas-Pine Bluff isn’t exactly a high-scoring powerhouse program, but holding an opponent under 50 points is always an impressive feat. The ‘Cats showed strong effort on defense for the entirety of the game, even when the result was a clear blowout, not allowing Pine Bluff to score within the final 4:42. The defensive scheme involved much more closing in on ball handlers and caused the Golden Lions to have a difficult time creating shots.
UAPB shot just 27% from the field and 13% from three-point range. The ‘Cats were also able to take advantage of a massively undersized opponent by blocking five shots and not allowing Pine Bluff slashers to enter the lane.
Northwestern was a poor defensive team a season ago, but this new found energy on defense may be the turning point to success.
NU is looking to push the tempo this season
Something Chris Collins emphasized after the game was that the team was entering a new style of play that was much more up-tempo and worked more on the fast break. The ‘Cats ran down the floor with a much greater pace than in years past using a collection of ball-handlers. Anyone from Buie to Ryan Greer to Miller Kopp was seen bringing the ball up court and looking for open shooters.
Where this team thrived most on the fast break was when the ball was in the hands of Buie or Greer. They ended with a combined 15 assists and used their vision to create open shots for the offense. While Buie continues to have a tendency to barrel into the lane and take bad shots at times, his speed and court vision have potential to make this offensive style lethal.
Buie must work on his discipline and continue to prioritize finding shooters such as Kopp and Audige open in order for this fast-paced system to elevate the team.