With college basketball right around the corner, we move on to the second part of our Northwestern men’s basketball player preview series. We’ll continue our preseason coverage with the team’s returning reserves.
G Brooks Barnhizer
As a first-year in 2021-22, Barnhizer found himself scraping the bottom of the rotation’s barrel for playing time. In a guard-heavy rotation dominated by Boo Buie, Ryan Greer and Ty Berry, Barnhizer only entered 11 games and averaged under eight minutes in each. Now that Greer has graduated, Barnhizer could earn the backup point guard nod if head coach Chris Collins opts to play Berry and Julian Roper II as off-ball guards next to Buie, as he primarily did last season.
Already a solid playmaker, the 6-foot-6 sophomore has the potential to become an extremely versatile defender. A midgame perimeter trio featuring Roper, Barnhizer and Chase Audige is about as switchable as they come.
What prevents that from becoming effective, in theory, is the fact that Barnhizer hasn’t proven he can complement both players as a shooter. Granted, Barnhizer only shot the ball 26 times last year, but his effective field goal percentage of 26.9% isn’t especially encouraging. If he can make some strides as a perimeter scorer, he can become one of Collins’s first options off the bench.
C Matthew Nicholson
Nicholson played sparingly last year as a sophomore, typically filling in for Ryan Young when NU’s other bench bigs faced foul trouble. With all of Northwestern’s big men now either transfers or first-years besides Robbie Beran, though, Nicholson will likely fill the same sparkplug role that Young did last year.
Nicholson has shone flashes of good defensive rebounding ability in the playing time he’s received already. The burning question is how he can fare as a paint defender against the Big Ten’s best interior players. Collins often threw different defenders at centers like Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn and Purdue’s Zach Edey to force teams to temporarily run their offenses through the perimeter. Nicholson is big as a seven-footer, but he isn’t quick. Rotating Beran with Nicholson won’t have the same effect as replacing a stronger Young with more mobile Elyjah Williams did.
The backup center role is likely the junior’s to lose, but he has a ways to go on both sides of the ball for Northwestern to stay afloat when Beran is off the floor. Nicholson does not come close to stretching the floor like Beran can, which strips NU’s offense of an entire layer. With Pete Nance (who shot 45% from deep in 2021-22) gone, that means the Wildcats will have to almost entirely rely on their perimeter scorers to create for themselves with Nicholson on the floor.
G Roy Dixon III
Dixon played in a career-high six games last season. That helped the former walk-on earn a scholarship over the summer, and he may be primed for more minutes this season. The ‘Cats are fairly guard-heavy, but Dixon’s athleticism could help him carve out a role as a stout defender off the bench, similar to Greer’s role last season.