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ROUNDTABLE: What constitutes a successful men’s basketball season?

Expectations are bleak for Chris Collins and the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Basketball Media Day Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Following yet another sub-.500 season, Northwestern basketball turns the page to 2022 with tremendous uncertainty facing the program — arguably none larger than that at head coach. What would a promising year look like for the Pete Nance-less Wildcats look like? Our staff weighs in.

Gavin Dorsey: NCAA Tournament Bid

It’s do or die for Chris Collins as the head coach of the Wildcats. I’m not sure anyone is anticipating a team that lost Pete Nance, Ryan Young, Casey Simmons, Ryan Greer and Elyjah Williams to actually improve from last year, but at this point, a berth in the NCAA Tournament may be the only thing that can save Chris Collins’ job. For the last five years, Collins has mismanaged a subpar team with potential, leading to just a .400 winning percentage and three 10+ game losing streaks in that time. The team is at a point where seeing marginal improvement is no longer considered a success. If a trip to the tourney is not achieved, it’ll likely be over for the only coach to ever bring the ‘Cats to the Big Dance.

Bradley Locker: Make the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament

I’m with Gavin in that making the NCAA Tournament should realistically be the only thing that saves Chris Collins’ seat in Evanston, but that’s just not plausible given the lack of talent or depth on this team. Rather, understanding the inconsistent nature of the team’s “stars,” the standards should be properly reset. Since Northwestern was able to win one game in the Big Ten Tournament last year, a step up in the form of two Ws in March (in the United Center no less) seems adequate. It’s not as if there’s real, tangible difference between the two, but at least some type of progress would have been made.

Iggy Dowling: Play .500 ball and post a winning record in games decided by under five points

Northwestern just lost its best player and nearly all of its frontcourt depth in a conference with Zach Edey, Hunter Dickinson and Trayce Jackson-Davis. It isn’t fair, nor is it feasible, to expect the ‘Cats to improve this season. What NU can do is prevail in more games it finds itself in contention to win. That was last season’s biggest issue, and it’s a huge reason why Chris Collins is looking like a lame duck if his team doesn’t pull off a miracle postseason run. If the ‘Cats can do that and keep the season from becoming disastrous early, it will set a good tone for what projects to be a young and talented 2023-24 core.

John Olsen: Prepare for 2023

I think everyone in the fanbase has a similar opinion of the head coach, so I’m not going to waste my words on reiterating them. If this team is what we expect it to be, then just let the kids — Julian Roper, Brooks Barnheizer and Luke Hunger — get opportunities to play and learn, and that should hopefully give whoever is coaching this team next season a solid platform to build on.

Patrick Winograd: Finish above .500

While finishing above .500 would not necessarily lead to an NCAA Tournament bid, Northwestern has not reached that mark since the ‘Cats’ only trip to the Big Dance in the 2016-17 season. Northwestern finished last season 15-16, so this goal is not unachievable. I believe that when you look at recent seasons, floating around the bubble at some point and ending with a winning record would constitute a successful season for Northwestern.

Adam Beck: Play competitive basketball

Let’s be real: this basketball team looks ugly on paper. They were mediocre at best last year, and lost two instrumental players in Ryan Young and Pete Nance this offseason, which isn’t going to help anything. At the end of the day, if the ‘Cats are in games and giving their young guys like Julian Roper and Brooks Barnhizer meaningful minutes, that’s important; this Northwestern squad will have to look to the future for any real success. For now, let’s hope the ‘Cats are good enough to be playing close and entertaining basketball games in a Big Ten conference with no shortage of talent.

Jake Mozarsky: Go .500 in the Big Ten

I think if a Northwestern team were going to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid, last year’s team would have been the one to do it. They had the talent and the good start, but lost too many close games, especially in conference play. This year, the Big Ten is going to be one of the best, if not the best, conference in college basketball this season. Last year, what set Northwestern under was its lackluster in-conference performance. If the ‘Cats are able to stay afloat in the conference and pair that with good results in non-conference play, they should be competitive. This should be a fair success measure for a Northwestern team with barely any expectations, and it could bring in some positivity going into 2023.

Leo Tesler: Beat bad teams and develop for the future

There’s not a lot to get excited about during this upcoming season of ‘Cats basketball, but that doesn’t mean that the team shouldn’t take advantage of weak competition when it can. Boo Buie and Robbie Beran will both (likely) be gone at the end of the season, so it’s time for Chris Collins and the rest of the coaching staff to see what they have in their younger players. Julian Roper II burst onto the scene last year as a first-year and could take advantage of a season with little expectations to improve his shooting. Despite going 15-16 last year, Northwestern lost only two games outside the Big Ten in 2021-22 and should be able to do the same going forward as it develops younger players.

John Ferrara: Not getting worse?

Northwestern has snuck into the NCAA Tournament...*checks notes*...once in the 83 years since the postseason affair began in 1939. Why anyone might suspect this year is going to yield a different outcome than what we’ve seen in 82 of the past 83 seasons is beyond me. Chris Collins, a head coach who has yet to demonstrate a transcendent gift as a game-strategist, returns a roster devoid of the talent that carried the ‘Cats to a near-.500 record last season. A similar campaign to what we saw in 2021 would be lucky, I guess?

Ethan Segall: Make Evanston a destination for talent

If it hasn’t become painfully clear at this point, we at Inside NU are a bit pessimistic when it comes to the wins and losses aspect of the upcoming season. What I’d view as progress is the forging of a foundation and culture that ensures no offseason will ever look like this past one. The exodus of talent between Pete Nance, Ryan Young and Casey Simmons is disappointing and counterintuitive for a program that has worked so hard to find footing in the Big Ten. The 2022-2023 season will be a success if it transforms Northwestern into an importer of basketball talent rather than an exporter.

Zain Bando: NCAA Tournament appearance

In order for Wildcat fans to walk away with the feeling of a successful season, the team has to finish games. There were several instances in 2021 where Northwestern had late leads against Penn State and Illinois (in Evanston), but couldn’t close the deal. Being able to find clutch moments when it matters most will be the difference between a successful vs. unsuccessful season.

Brendan Preisman: Win the games they should

According to ESPN, Northwestern is the consensus 12th best team in the Big Ten. With nine conference opponents receiving votes in the AP Poll, that’s about where the Wildcats belong. However, there are signs of hope. The non-conference schedule looks pretty light again, with the toughest opponents being Georgetown and Pitt. Last year, the ‘Cats went 8-2 in out-of-conference play, and a mark like that is on the table again. One thing they can’t afford to do is lose that momentum like last year: the team opened Big Ten play with a 2-8 mark before recovering slightly with a 5-6 record to close out the season. It won't be easy, as NU’s first seven conference opponents are all currently receiving at least four votes in the AP poll. However, if the purple and white are able to steal a home game or two (with Ohio State, Illinois and Rutgers all looking beatable against them last year), they could enter February with a record of around 11-9. Considering the amount of talent that left after last year, hanging above .500 for that long should be considered a pretty good year.