Northwestern enters this year without a NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017. That was their only one in program history and since that season the Wildcats have gone just 26-71 in Big Ten play.
Last season was absolutely filled with close losses. Only four of their 16 losses were by double digits. Those losses were at Purdue, at Minnesota, at Iowa and vs Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament. Last year’s team competed, particularly at home, but just couldn’t close out games.
Losses: Pete Nance, Ryan Young, Ryan Greer, Elyjah Williams, Casey Simmons
Additions: Tydus Verhoeven
The decisions of both Pete Nance (North Carolina) and Ryan Young (Duke) to transfer is a massive blow for this team. They do bring in Tydus Verhoeven from UTEP. Verhoeven should be a piece that could actually be an upgrade on the defensive end, although he doesn’t have the offensive potential that Nance or Young had. Another guy who will get an opportunity down low is 6’10 freshman Luke Hunger. He can step out and knock down the three but will also need to help out in the rebounding department. I expect Hunger will been thrown into the fire early in just his first year in Evanston.
Matthew Nicholson is another piece who could help in the departure of Young and Nance. At 7’0, 270, Nicholson has to be used in Big Ten play against bigs like Hunter Dickinson and Zach Edey. He played in 14 games last year, but only more than ten minutes once.
The strength of Northwestern is in their returning guards. Boo Buie and Chase Audige were both very streaky last year, but when they were hot it felt like the Wildcats could hang with anyone. Buie was the highest used player on Northwestern last year. He led them in assists and was second in scoring. Audige was the less efficient of the two last year, as he shot just 25.5 % (27-106) from three. He’ll have to improve that efficiency this year.
Ty Berry is key to the offense for me. He can really shoot it and showed that at times last year. He dropped 23 points at Ohio State, 16 points at Illinois and 19 points at Iowa. Only Boo Buie took more threes than Berry last year, but Berry shot it at 38.3% clip (Buie was 33.5%).
Julian Roper will look for a sophomore year jump. He did see a lot of time last year. He’s proved he can be on the floor defensively but look for a bit more offensive production this year. Robbie Beran will be asked to take another step in offensive production on the wing. He gives the Cats length defensively. The ability to defend big wings will be essential in Big Ten play.
Brooks Barnhizer and freshman Nick Martinelli will provide depth. Barnhizer played sparingly last season after coming off a broken foot.
The Wildcats were able to be in a lot of games last year. That was due to how well they took care of the ball last year. Northwestern was 8th in the country in turnover % last year. They did well to maximize their possessions, but with those possessions they were inefficient. They finished last in the Big Ten in effective field goal % and 223rd in the country (49.0%). That poor execution is what hurt them at the end of games. That’s where they need to improve on offense. The guards are going to carry this team on the scoresheet. Buie and Audige will play a big part in where this team goes.
The unproven Bigs will have to hold down the interior. The Wildcats don’t crash the boards much offensively (262 in Offensive Rebounding % last year), but they do block out and finish possessions on defense (67th in Defensive Rebounding %). With their top two defensive rebounders gone (Nance and Young), they’ll need this new group of bigs to step in and grab some rebounds. An area for improvement defensively is defending the three. Northwestern finished 322nd in the country in opponent 3-point percentage last year (36.8%).
Key Non-Conference Games:
• Nov 7 – Season Opener vs Chicago State
• Nov 15 @ Georgetown (Gavitt Tipoff Games)
• Nov 22/23 Cancun Challenge vs Liberty and Auburn or Bradley
• Nov 28 vs Pittsburgh (Big Ten-ACC Challenge)
• Dec 17 vs DePaul
Northwestern has a really tough conference schedule. They only play four of the weaker teams in Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State and Maryland once. The play at Michigan State for the early conference game on December 4th. They’ll start the 2023 calendar with a stretch against Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. That’s seven straight NCAA Tournament teams and their first eight conference games when you factor in that first game at Michigan State.
Then after two games of Nebraska and Minnesota the Wildcats have another gauntlet with Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois- another seven straight games against NCAA Tournament teams. They’ll finish the year with Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers. What a loaded conference schedule for Northwestern this year and with two absolutely insane stretches. The schedule-makers did no favors for the Wildcats this year. With that being said, there’s a lot of opportunity for big wins this season. I’m excited to see how the Wildcats look this season.