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Amidst a three-game win streak, Ryan Greer has emerged as an indispensable player

The senior guard has evolved into a significant contributor, and his play, while statistically pedestrian, has propelled the team to its strongest stretch of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Even during a three-game win streak, Northwestern’s success has been met with plenty of caveats. The Rutgers game just reinforced the same issues that have plagued the team as the team required an overtime to escape victorious despite previously leading by 24 points. The win over Nebraska was dominant ... but it’s Nebraska men’s basketball, winning by 20-plus is akin to turning your homework in on time. And last night’s defeat of Indiana will probably be given an asterisk by many, as the Hoosiers were without five players — two of which are starters and four rotation players in total — due to disciplinary reasons.

There’s validity in these critiques. The ‘Cats are still far from being as successful as they wanted to be entering this season, and the win over Indiana required a second half comeback in order to compensate for a 5-for-27 performance from beyond the arc.

But overall, things aren’t half bad right now. Boo Buie has had it going from deep and has emerged with clutch buckets in two of the last three wins. Pete Nance continues to dominate the game in classic Nance-ian ways even amidst a small scoring slump. Northwestern might be a 5-8 team in conference play with a percentage chance at making the NCAA Tournament that sits near zero, but it’s worth celebrating the upticks when they come around, no matter the circumstance.

And perhaps in this season that has embodied “better, but still not good enough”, extra attention should be shone on someone who has been better than anyone could have expected — Ryan Greer.

Every die-hard NU fan knows the story with Greer. He was lightly recruited coming out of high school and came a year earlier than Collins and Co. were expecting back in 2018-19. He barely saw the floor his first two years in Evanston and did so little that he was all but invisible on the stat sheet. Even last year’s “jump” was only up to a 13-minute per game average, and his stellar three-point shooting (47.1 percent in 2020-21) was bitten by his lacking volume, as he only hoisted 17 attempts in 23 games.

Coming into his senior season, expectations for him were pretty flat. Check in, don’t turn the ball over, maybe hit a three, and then check back out. Rinse and repeat for 30 games and call it a career. That’s what everyone thought would happen

Well, that is everyone except for Greer himself. Though still not a high-volume scorer or extreme focal point for the offense, the senior guard has established himself as a necessary part of the rotation, now playing around 20 minutes each night and having great success doing so. What’s most amazing is that he’s still largely the same player he’s always been, but with just enough aggression added on top to keep defenses honest. Freshman-through-junior year Greer probably leaves WRA last night without having attempted a shot. The 2022 version waves off one of his teammates so he can isolate into a step back fadeaway from the right elbow.

“When he was younger, [he] had that little part of him that always wanted to play it safe,” head coach Chris Collins said of Greer following the game. “He and I have had conversations about just going out there and and just hooping, for lack of a better term. Be aggressive, be feisty, drive the ball, get in there make plays, and if you’ve got a big shot, take it with confidence.”

Things really started to click with Greer two weeks ago in Ann Arbor, where he eclipsed the 20-minute mark for the first time since the team’s overtime loss to Maryland. Though he is yet to hit double digits in points during any of his last five appearances, he’s come in and hit at least two field goals in each of his last four, while adding his usual dose of hard-nosed defense. Once a player relegated to the corner of the offense just so he wouldn’t screw anything up, Greer is now trusted with tertiary creation and shot making and has excelled when given the chance.

Furthermore, Greer has been an easily scalable player, as his traits serve to amplify his teammates rather than to take away any opportunities from them.

“What we’ve found is that [playing Greer] allows us to get Boo off the ball a little more,” said Collins. “I can then utilize Boo coming off screens, bringing him out of the corner for dribble handoffs and pin-downs, and keep some energy for him by not having to bring the ball up the floor.”

During the three-game win streak that’s coincided with Greer’s ascent, Buie has led the team in scoring on plus shooting efficiency.

This might all seem like way too much talk for a guy who still only averages four points per game and will receive copious amounts of demeaning trash talk from opposing fanbases no matter how well he plays. But in this season that’s pushed Wildcat fans to the lowest of lows no shorter than two weeks ago, his rise as an indispensable contributor on the court has been a jolt of fun and excitement for all involved.

“It’s fun when you see a guy become the player that you envisioned them becoming when you saw him when he was younger,” said Collins. “[Greer’s] done just that. It’s fun to see his confidence right now, to the point where we have to have him on the floor at the end of games.”

There’s no caveats or qualifiers needed. Ryan Greer has been great in the 2021-22 season, and all signs point to him keeping it going to close out his senior year.