Chris Collins’ time at Northwstern has been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Since leading NU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance and win in school history in 2017 his squads have struggled mightily, headlined by records that have gotten progressively worse since that landmark season.
Now, Northwestern finds itself in the midst of another tough stretch. Its 68-52 loss to No. 10 Wisconsin on Wednesday marked the team’s sixth straight loss after starting the season 3-0 in conference play. It also marks the seventh time in Collins’ eight-year tenure in which the ‘Cats have lost at least five consecutive games at some point in a season.
To make matters worse, things have gone further downhill as time has gone on. NU has had losing streaks of at least 10 games in each of its last two seasons, including last season’s 12-game slide that matched its worst stretch since 1999-2000.
While a 6-7 (3-6) record at this point of the year might have been expected preseason, Northwestern’s hot start provided hope that it might have finally corrected its mistakes from years prior. Instead, it seems as though it has reverted to its post-2017 form, when the most it could muster was a blown second half lead.
What has made the current six-game slide so frustrating is the fact that Northwestern has showed it can compete with nationally ranked teams. Those three early wins might have been helped by some luck, but winning three straight, including two against then-ranked opponents, is no fluke. The drop off in performance raises questions about NU’s schematics and importantly, Collins’ in-game and in-season adjustments, something that he has had trouble with throughout his time in Evanston.
While these types of stretches might be expected in a head coach’s first few seasons, it becomes problematic when you consider the fact that Collins has been at Northwestern for nearly a decade and has won just a third of his conference games.
It is important to remember, however, that the Wildcats’ last six losses have been against ranked opponents, including four inside the top 10. But for them to not even be competitive in most of those contests is concerning; they have lost all of their conference games by no fewer than 10 points and by an average of 18 points. It’s hard to see the light when Michigan or Iowa trounces them or they choking a 15-point lead against Illinois in a historically bad second half performance.
Northwestern’s struggles can be attributed to many things, from dismal three-point shooting to the lack of good point guard play to porous defense, some of which have plagued Chris Collins’ teams in the past. In fact, this year’s team bears striking similarities to the 2018-19 squad, when poor point guard play was largely the reason why a team with former NU stars Vic Law and Dererk Pardon won only four conference games.
No matter the reasons behind the current skid, the bottom line is that it streaks strike an all-too-familiar tone. Chris Collins will inevitably be at the helm of the program until the end of the season and probably for seasons to come as part of a contract that keeps him in Evanston through 2025. Saturday night against a Penn State team that has just one Big Ten win would be a good place to start the turnaround.