It has been an adventurous week for Northwestern men’s basketball, landing three transfers to round out the roster for the upcoming season. Liberty graduate forward Blake Preston, Denver sophomore Justin Mullins and Princeton graduate Ryan Langborg committed to the purple and white, significantly altering NU’s roster construction. As of today, the Wildcats have used 11 scholarship spots, leaving two available. NU would love to use those final two scholarships on its star backcourt of Boo Buie and Chase Audige, who both have one year of college eligibility left, but the chances that the duo returns to Evanston remain in limbo. With that being said, today we will take a look at what the ‘Cats’ rotation will look like the next time they take the floor — without Agent Zero and No. 1.
Three out of Northwestern’s five starters from this past season have now departed, so the starting bunch next year will look quite different from the groups of the past few seasons. While there is still plenty of time for changes, here is my predicted starting five for the 2023-2024 Wildcats.
Ty Berry, Guard
Despite his shooting woes this season, the rising senior seems to be the odds-on favorite to become the ‘Cats’ newest point guard. One of only three guards returning to Northwestern, Berry started all 34 games for NU this season. This experience will definitely help him transition to guiding the ‘Cats’ offense next season, as Chris Collins trusts No. 3 to run the offense. It will be a massive leap in responsibility for Berry, who will have to adjust from being a spot-up, three-point shooter to a shot creator and facilitator. For someone who shot 34% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc this year, Berry will have to score at a more consistent clip if NU wants to compete for a tournament bid again. If he can put it all together, the soon-to-be senior is poised for a breakout campaign.
Ryan Langborg, Guard
The Princeton graduate was the impact transfer Wildcat fans were hoping to see. The fifth-year can shoot the lights out, making him a perfect addition to a ‘Cats squad that lost its two top scorers. Langborg shot over 42% from the field and 33 % from three — higher than any member of NU’s 2022-2023 roster. Langborg will serve as a viable scoring option instantly for NU, taking the pressure off of Brooks Barnhizer to have to carry the squad's offense on his back. Langborg still has room to improve defensively, but under the tutelage of Chris Lowery, I would expect the newest Wildcat to make significant improvements rapidly.
Justin Mullins, Guard
This one may be surprising. Mullins, a true rising sophomore, is still green in college basketball — and now moves from the Summit League to the Big Ten. However, the Oak Park native’s raw potential is off the charts. Mullins is a prototypical 3-and-D player, scoring in bunches and having active hands on the defensive end. As a true freshman, Mullins had 16 games with double-digit points, including a 27-point outburst against New Orleans. He shot over 50% from the field and 36.5% from long range — impressive numbers at any level of competition. On the other end of the court, he was fourth in steals in his conference with 47. The incoming sophomore will be an immediate threat on the wing, mixing his ability to get to the rim with his smooth jump shot. Mullins’ ceiling is incredibly high, and if properly developed, he could become an even better version of Audige.
Brooks Barnhizer, Guard/Forward
Barnhizer is my early pick for next season’s team MVP because he is an absolute stud. No. 13 stormed onto the scene down the stretch this season, reaching double figures in seven of his last eight games. It did not matter if he was backing an opponent down in the post, fading away from the rim or stroking from long range, there is nothing the rising junior can not do on the offensive end. Although he played the four at points this year, Barnhizer can easily run the show as the point guard. In the Big Ten tournament, when Collins would give Buie and Audige a rest, he let No. 13 take over the game — and he did not disappoint. Against Penn State, Barnhizer went on an individual 5-0 run to pull Northwestern back into the game, proving that he was more than capable of putting the squad on his back if needed. And needed it will be next season, as Barnhizer becomes the ‘Cats’ first scoring option. He is also a tremendous defender who plays bigger than his size. If he takes the leap that most people expect, the entire country will learn the name Brooks Barnhizer very quickly.
Matt Nicholson, Center
Everyone’s favorite seven-footer returns to the starting lineup after coming onto the scene his junior year. In his first season of seeing meaningful minutes, journalism-Mutombo found his role in the ‘Cats’ system. Nicholson’s pick-and-roll made him a threat down low in the post, always willing to slam it down on an opponent. In fact, the seven-footer kept NU in the game against UCLA during March Madness. Nicholson also was a solid defender for the Wildcats, rejecting 40 shots. However, No. 34 struggled with the physicality of Big Ten play, constantly winding up in foul trouble, With the experience gained from this season, plus another eight months in the weight room, Nicholson has the potential to be a top center in the Big Ten next season.
Nick Martinelli, Forward
With the absence of Julian Roper II, Martinelli was thrust into an expanded role his freshman season. While not a major scoring threat, No. 2 does the dirty work on offense, grabbing offensive rebounds to create extra positions and helping move the ball to find the open man. Still, don’t sleep on the left-handed hook from the rising sophomore. He is a ferocious defender who antagonizes opponents, making it difficult to create space. If he can become a better scorer, he will have a nice role off the bench this season.
Blake Preston, Forward/Center
Another new face for Northwestern, as the fifth year comes to Evanston after spending four years at Liberty. Preston will take the spot of last year's transfer forward, Tydus Verhoeven. He has never been a scoring threat, but he will play solid defense and allow Nicholson to get a breather when needed. Hopefully, he finds himself in less foul trouble than Verhoeven.
Luke Hunger, Forward/Center
The rising sophomore returns after missing most of his freshman season with a foot injury. Expect Hunger to play a stretch four and five role for NU and to be a factor on offense down the stretch. Hunger nearly averaged a double-double his senior year of high school, scoring 17 points and adding 9.7 boards. While still a rather unknown prospect, expect No. 33 to be a solid contributor off the bench.
Blake Barkley, Forward
Rounding out the bench, the incoming first-year will see limited minutes in his inaugural season in Evanston. The 6-foot-8 forward steps into the spot Martinelli filled last season. He will not be asked to score, but if he can grab a board or two and gain an extra possession for NU, Chris Collins will certainly be pleased.