We’re now officially 16 games through the Northwestern men’s basketball season, with the ‘Cats sitting at 9-7 overall with a 2-5 record in Big Ten play. It hasn’t been the season that fans have been hoping for, with Northwestern falling in multiple close games. Of course, there have been some bright spots as well, such as the Wildcats’ victory over No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing. Let’s take a look at the midseason stock up/stock down for men’s basketball.
Pete Nance and Ryan Young
Sure, Ryan Young struggled a bit in Northwestern’s loss to Wisconsin. He missed layups he usually makes and went 1-for-5 from the free throw line. That one game can’t take away from the season he’s having, though. Young has been invaluable for the ‘Cats off the bench this year; he’s played in 44.5 percent of Northwestern’s minutes, which, according to KenPom, is third highest on the team behind only Boo Buie and Pete Nance. Additionally, Young ranks 20th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. On top of that, he’s shooting 58 percent from the field on the year. It’s been a very impressive season for the junior thus far.
Moving on to Nance, well, he’s the Wildcats’ only NBA Draft prospect. The senior forward is averaging 16.6 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field on the year. He’s also shooting 43.8 percent from three on the season, good enough for 123rd in the country, according to KenPom (though his sample size is small). He is Northwestern’s best scorer and, coincidentally, its best passer. The numbers may not show it, but Nance is far and away the best player on the Wildcats’ roster.
The ‘Cats may be losing close games, but it isn’t because of their turnovers. NU currently boasts an offensive turnover percentage of 12.8 percent, the fourth-lowest in the nation, according to KenPom. Funnily enough, the Wildcats sit only behind St. Thomas and two Big Ten opponents in Iowa and No. 8 Wisconsin.
On top of limiting turnovers, the ‘Cats aren’t allowing many steals. They rank fifth in the country in steal percentage when on offense, coming in at 6.2. Simply put, Northwestern is losing games for many reasons (we’ll get to some of those in a bit), but turning the ball over isn’t typically one of them.
Julian Roper II
He may not be on the floor all that much, but Julian Roper has quietly gotten off to an impressive start in his first year for the Wildcats. He’s played in 13 of Northwestern’s 15 games this year, and he’s recorded at least one steal in 10 of those 13 games. In his somewhat limited minutes, Roper has been one of the Wildcats’ best defensive players. He’s not the best shooter on the roster by any means, but his defensive skillset has been a very valuable addition to the team, and after playing 27 minutes against Wisconsin on Tuesday, he may be looking at a more significant role down the stretch.
Honorable mentions: Not losing to mid-majors, the student section against Wisconsin, the band, that Michigan State win, Inside NU’s Twitter followers
Northwestern’s guard play
I am well aware that Chase Audige was pretty much the only player who kept NU in the game against Wisconsin (at least in the first half). I am also well aware that he has been struggling with the same issues of shot selection and lack of awareness this season as he has in seasons past. Boo Buie is in the same boat too.
Here’s the deal with Northwestern’s guards: when they’re on, they’re on fire. They can win games with their shotmaking ability. With that in mind, when they’re cold, they’re a huge negative to the team. The overarching issue is that Audige and Buie are cold far more often than they’re on fire. On top of that, the shots they take in games just aren’t often high-percentage ones, which leads to missed opportunities for the offense as a whole.
Audige and Buie have combined for 56.4 percent of shots taken by Northwestern this season, according to KenPom. They’re both shooting just above 40 percent from the field and just above 30 percent from three. While their boom-or-bust creates potential for big upsets, if NU wants any shot at turning its season around, it’ll need more consistent play out of its guards.
Winning close games
Everyone knows that this is an issue for the Wildcats. It hardly even needs to be said. Simply put, the ‘Cats are cursed in close ones. All seven of their losses this year have come by eight points or less. In every single one of their losses, they’ve been in the game until the very end. Northwestern’s average margin of defeat is about 5.7 points. The ‘Cats managed to close one out at Michigan State. If they can pull off a couple more of those wins, maybe we can remove this from the stock down section. Maybe.
Chris Collins’ job security
Two years ago, I wrote a midseason stock report for Northwestern men’s basketball, and this was one of the stock downs. I admit that I may have jumped the gun a bit then, but now, it’s a different story. The team continues to struggle despite the roster being ripe with seasoned vets. They can’t win close games, as previously mentioned. The offense still stalls at times. On the court, the Wildcats still look similar to teams of Collins’ past at times.
It’s also important to note that off the court, things are different. Jim Phillips is no longer Northwestern’s Director of Athletics, with Derrick Gragg replacing him this past year. How much leeway Collins has with Gragg remains to be seen, but considering Collins now has a lower career winning percentage than previous Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody, that seat has to be getting at least a little bit warm.
Honorable mentions: Jon Rothstein’s savings account, Hope, the Wilson Club, concession prices, record projections