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Three takeaways from Northwestern’s trip to Cancún

Northwestern Men’s Basketball traveled to Cancún this week to play in the 2022 Cancún Challenge.

Chase Audige
Chicago Tribune

In a week of giving thanks, here at Inside NU, we are thankful that Men’s Basketball is a watchable team. The ‘Cats traveled to Cancún, Mexico this week to play in the 2022 Cancún Challenge, and their first matchup was Tuesday against 2021 tournament team Liberty. They won that game 66-52 and advanced to play No. 13 Auburn on Turkey Day eve. The ‘Cats hung with Auburn all night and lost 43-42 in a defensive grudge match. Here’s three takeaways from Cancún:

Northwestern might be able to hang with good teams

Hmmmm. I don’t want to prematurely start a hype train, but Auburn is a top 25 team. And if the cards fell just a little differently, Northwestern would’ve won that game. When you watch this year’s team, there are real reasons to be excited.

The ‘Cats have a good back court. Senior guard Chase Audige is fun to watch every game. He combined with junior Ty Berry for 34 points in the win against Liberty on Tuesday. Boo Buie is, well, Boo Buie. He has flashes of greatness, more on that later. Sophomore Brooks Barnhizer also plays his butt off whenever he’s on the floor and has real promise.

Northwestern’s defense held Auburn to 43 points, its lowest total on the season by 24. It’s fair to point out that the ‘Cats are the only Power Five team Auburn has played, but that’s a very wide margin. Northwestern was good defensively against Liberty as well by only allowing 52 points, also the Eagles’ lowest point total on the season.

The guys in purple aren’t going to be the flashiest team in the Big Ten. They don’t have a ton of star power. They don’t really have a consistent scorer. But they have some toughness and some grit, and I do think they are a team that will be close in games when conference play rolls around. We need to see more before we can be sure exactly how many games they are capable of winning, but this has been an extremely solid 5-1 start.

Boo Buie will frustrate us all year

Buie was coming off a dominant performance against Purdue Fort Wayne in which he scored 28 points and hit seven three’s. But against Liberty he went cold, shooting 1-of-4 from three and 1-of-8 overall. He then went 0-of-6 from beyond the arc against Auburn.

Buie is undeniably a talented player, and if he’s on, Northwestern is a much better team. But it’s not clear that the ‘Cats can count on him to be a consistent number one option. In his defense, the preseason expectations for Buie were probably unfair, and, as a result, Wildcat fans are likely to be frustrated with the senior’s performance all season. He’s not a consistent scorer, and we need to accept that.

Depth is a concern

Only seven Wildcats saw the floor Wednesday night. Really good tournament teams, more often than not, have more than a seven-man rotation. That’s pretty much what Northwestern has right now. It doesn’t completely doom the team, but depth isn’t a great thing to lack as the college basketball season wears on. If injuries begin to plague the roster, or fatigue starts to set in, then it’s going to be tough to beat premier opponents in the Big Ten. Hopefully the ‘Cats get Julian Roper back at some point soon — that should help. But barring the emergence of someone else, the rotation pretty much caps at eight.

However, that’s a problem for later. For now, Northwestern fans should be basking in the glory of almost beating Auburn. After a football season of pain and misery, it was fun to watch this basketball team in Cancún. It will try to build on the momentum against Pitt in the ACC/Big Ten challenge next Monday.