Following an offseason full of questions, the biggest of all being how Northwestern would replace its graduates and transfers, the Wildcats tipped off their 2022-23 campaign in a big way Monday with an 85-54 victory over Chicago State. Things didn’t always look perfect for the ‘Cats, but Northwestern shot pretty well — 10-of-21 from three and 27-of-32 from the line — leading to its first win of the season. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Monday night’s matchup.
Everything will be run through the three seniors
Between Robbie Beran, Boo Buie and Chase Audige, it was very evident Monday that Chris Collins intended on using his trio of seniors to run nearly every aspect of the offense, with additional contributions from Ty Berry. As a team that lost so much talent in the offseason, the Wildcats’ reserves are largely full of youth, and how well that trio leads the team’s young players will determine how well Northwestern performs this season.
Collins praised the leadership from those three after the game, while also acknowledging that they have a chip on their shoulders, saying they felt they had a team good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament last season, but couldn’t get it done.
“Those three seniors have really led us this whole offseason,” Collins said. “They’ve created a tone of grit, determination, fight and toughness, and that’s what we’ve got to do because we’re going to be in a lot of close games this year. You’ve got to have that mentality and you’ve got to rely on those older guys to really lead the way for you. I’m really proud of those three guys, and they were named captains for a reason.”
Matthew Nicholson looks to be a major piece in NU’s gameplan
In his first two years in Evanston, Nicholson averaged fewer than two points per game while fouling roughly once every four and a half minutes. For the seven-footer, his size in the post wasn’t quite enough to justify his constant foul trouble, and he wasn’t utilized in the Wildcats’ offense and defense because of it.
Although the opener is just a small sample size, Nicholson looked much improved against Chicago State. “Big Matt” appeared to live up to his name, as the center looks like he hit the weight room and bulked up a lot over the offseason. This paid off on both sides of the ball Monday. In transition, Nicholson was a force in the paint, taking several feeds from Audige for dunks and effective post hooks, totaling nine points on five shots. On the defensive side, Nicholson added a block and steal, but most importantly, only fouled once.
Regardless of whether or not this glimpse of success persists, Nicholson appeared to play much more disciplined, and Collins seemed excited about the way the big man would be used this year.
Brooks Barnhizer’s versatility will be utilized
In his postgame press conference, Collins said that he views the sophomore as a starter, but plans to have him come off the bench because of what he can do for the second unit. His minutes certainly reflected that, as Barnhizer logged 27 minutes, the fifth-most on the team behind the seniors and Berry. Collins noted that he likes how Barnhizer can fit anywhere on the floor — his 6-foot-6 frame resembles that of a small forward, but his speed and playstyle fits that of a guard — and said he plans to use him everywhere this season.
Although he didn’t have the most efficient debut — five points on 2-of-5 shooting with five rebounds, two fouls and a turnover — Collins’ trust in Barnhizer and his overall usage on Monday night shows the sophomore will likely be trending up this season and see a big role in many different spots for the Wildcats.