What would you do if you coached Wildcat basketball? That’s what we asked ourselves, and that generated a wide range of answers. Give your takes below.
Lia Assimakopoulos: Coach situational basketball
One of the most frustrating things in watching this team this season has been what appears to be a lack of situational awareness, especially toward the end of games. It feels that games have just slipped away from Northwestern either at the end or due to significant runs because the team has struggled to regroup when it needs to most. This awareness for the game and trends within games needs to be improved for the Wildcats to succeed in the second half of their conference schedule.
Eli Karp: Develop an identity
I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, but it’s genuinely difficult to describe this team in a couple words. You just don’t know what you’re going to get from it on a nightly basis, and you don’t know why they’re going to win, if they will. Northwestern isn’t bad or good at basically anything right now, so literally just put emphasis on one thing and let fuel NU’s purpose every game.
Mac Stone: Coach better shot selection
Any offense that often has possessions end in a long two-point attempt or an iso is not a good offense in my books. I understand that Miller Kopp and Chase Audige can hit those deep twos, but they’re simply not high-quality shots. Additionally, too many possessions end in a Boo Buie or Audige isolation attempt, which rarely ends well. Also, what’s up with Anthony Gaines attempting threes with 10+ seconds to go on the shot clock? This team needs to take better shots.
Jacob Brown: Instill discipline
In Collins’ defense, I’m not exactly sure how you do this. But I am sure that Boo Buie and Chase Audige both take questionable shots early in the shot clock fairly frequently. They both have immense talent. If a coach can get them to pass up tough shots and find their open teammates instead, the whole offense will improve. Opposing teams will have to defend the other players on the court more heavily, opening up opportunities for NU’s guards to take and make high percentage looks.
Daniel Olinger: Streamline the offense through Pete Nance and Miller Kopp
Easier said than done as the two are respected by opponents often as Northwestern’s two most dangerous offensive weapons, but I still think that for a team that’s often at a talent deficit facing Big Ten foes focusing the offense on these two would be a net positive. Kopp is one of the absolute best shooters in the country, ranking in the 95th percentile shooting out of off-screen actions and in the 99th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler according to Synergy Sports simply due to his shooting acumen while running to the right, and Nance is a heady decision maker who will find the openings in a defense. It’s not a one-to-one comparison by any means, but using Kopp and Nance like the Miami Heat have deployed Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson is something I’d explore heavily as the head coach.
Claire Kuwana: Better develop the talent on the team
I don’t quite know how I would do this. But this is what I would do. If I could.
Players like Pete Nance and Boo Buie have the capabilities to shine in the Big Ten. We’ve seen it happen. But Collins is — for some reason unknown to me — unable to harness their potential and turn the raw talent that they possess into consistent results.
Didi Jin: Give Boo Buie more volume
Halfway through this season, it’s clear that this team runs with Buie. In the only three conference games that the ‘Cats have won this year, Buie has averaged 56% from the field on 66% shooting from long distance. While other starters have had their fair share of good shooting performances during this losing streak, the lack of reliable point guard play during that stretch has really hurt Northwestern. When Buie plays well, NU always seems to have a fighting chance.
Buie will be Northwestern’s starting point guard for the foreseeable future, and he clearly has the most upside of anyone else at the position on the roster. During a season in which the postseason again seems like a pipe dream, why not give him full autonomy?
Nikesh Mehrotra: Encourage Miller Kopp to shoot more 3s
I’m sure “give one player all the shots” isn’t usually the solution for fixing a struggling offense, but Northwestern needs the ball in Kopp’s hands to get rolling again. He’s shooting an incredible 45.3% from behind the arc this season, but he’s only put up 3.8 3s per game. And as great of a shooter as he is, he’s not as much of a threat going to the basket. If Kopp’s starts shooting more, defenses will force him off the line and he can start to distribute, which’ll open up the whole offense. There’s no reason that Boo Buie and Chase Audige, who are great off the dribble but are known to take questionable shots, should be shooting more from deep than Kopp.
Liam Warin: More five out concepts
Why did the ‘Cats stop running flare screens and off ball screens to get Miller Kopp open? Why did they stop running Iverson cuts to put Audige or Nance into their best shooting percentage situations to create easy shots? Why did they stop attacking the rim through plays that eventually left Boo open from behind the arc, instead of aimlessly rushing to the basket and forcing Boo to chuck contested threes five feet behind the line? Return to concepts that were successful in the Wildcats’ first three Big Ten games rather than the uncontrolled madness that has developed since.
Ben Chasen: Actually coach in late game scenarios
Did anyone else find it... um... let’s say mildly concerning when, before the ‘Cats’ last possession at Penn State, it appeared Collins wasn’t the one drawing up the play to either tie the game? When does a team need its coach more than in the very last moments of the game when the winner will be decided by a single possession? If I were trying to coach Northwestern out of its dismal cold stretch, I’d probably start by coaching late in games when my guidance is most necessary. It won’t always work out, sure. But I’d rather have to own that my play design didn’t succeed as planned than delegate that responsibility to an assistant in a critical moment.
Colin Kruse: Forge an identity for this team
As Eli wrote a few weeks back, this team needs something on which to hang its hat, perhaps emphasizing the stout defense of previous Collins-era teams. Nonetheless, this team lacks the composure and swagger upon which to fall back when things go wrong against a top team such as Iowa or Michigan (or even more average opponents). Maybe mid-2010s Tony Bennett Virginia teams spoiled me with the archetypal “heart and hustle”-type players such as Justin Anderson and Joe Harris. Anyway, I’d love to see some fight, passion, swagger and composure on a nightly basis
William Karmin: Better morale
There is something to be said about the fact that this seven game losing streak is tied for only the fourth-longest losing streak of Chris Collins’ tenure at NU. Collins has consistently shown an inability to snap his team out of losing streaks. This directs back to the team’s morale. Rutgers just lost five games in a row. The Scarlet Knights are now playing inspired basketball and are on a two-game winning streak with a matchup in Evanston looking. If I were Collins, I would have a long conversation with Steve Pikiell before Sunday’s game to find some answers in the quest to reinvigorate NU’s players.