What a season we got from the Wildcats last year. Preseason picked to finish 13th in the Big Ten but ended up with an NCAA Tournament win and 68-63 loss to 2 seed UCLA in the second round.
The Wildcats lose an unbelievable defender in Chase Audige, they also lose Robbie Beran, Julian Roper and Tydus Verhoeven, but the rest of the squad returns.
Below we see offensive and defensive efficiency ranks amongst the Big Ten teams last year:
We see Northwestern bunched together with all the other Big Ten teams that finished with essentially the same record. They were better on defense than offense (22nd in defensive efficiency, 88th in offensive).
Ryan Langborg – Princeton grad transfer, brings shooting from a team that made a Sweet 16 a year ago. Shot 33.5% from deep last year and 40.5% two years ago.
Blake Preston – 6’9 Liberty grad transfer, offers depth in the frontcourt. He brings experience and a winning mentality. He likes contact and could play a backup big role, similar to that of Tydus Verhoeven last year.
Justin Mullins – 6’6 sophomore Denver transfer, played at Oak Park River Forest for high school. He’s long and athletic, averaged 9.9 points, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals as a freshman at Denver last season.
The Wildcats also add three freshmen: Jordan Clayton, Blake Barkley and Parker Strauss. Clayton is the highest rated of the three and should be able to contribute defensively right away.
Boo Buie returns as the heart and soul of this team and as an All-Big Ten team preseason selection. Buie can score it and make plays for others. The Wildcats will run as he does, and you want the ball in his hands down the stretch. He also shot a team-high 86.9% from the free-throw line last season.
Brooks Barnhizer is the breakout player who I expected to fill the secondary scorer role left by Chase Audige. Barnhizer really came on down the stretch last season as a scorer. He finished in double-digits in each of the last five conference games and put up a 15 point 11 rebound double-double in the Big Ten Tournament OT loss to Penn State. He was a scorer in high school, but the confidence took a big leap last season.
Ty Berry is a shooter that struggled last season. You feel like a lot of the threes he gets are good looks, he just didn’t knock them down (29.1% from 3 last year). If he gets going, Northwestern is really tough to stop. The Wildcats were 11-3 when he scored in double digits and 6-0 when he hit at least three 3-pointers!
Matthew Nicholson did a great job in his role last year and I expect more of the same. He’s physical, sets good screens, protects the rim and finishes lobs.
Luke Hunger was a guy I liked early on last year, but a foot injury in December put him out for the rest of the season. Hunger brings good effort and competitiveness, and he didn’t look like a freshman physically, he was already big enough to compete. He’s versatile, he can stretch the floor and shoot on other bigs, but he can go inside on smaller defenders too.
After Hunger and Julian Roper got hurt last year, Nick Martinelli got thrown into the fire. The crafty lefty provided a solid role piece and driving ability. I’m curious to see what his game evolves into.
Schedule Highlights – Early Season
November 6th vs Binghamton – Season Opener
November 10th vs Dayton
November 18th vs Rhode Island – Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament
November 19th vs Mississippi State or Washington State – Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament
December 1st vs Purdue
December 16th @ DePaul
December 20th vs Arizona State in Phoenix, AZ
The elite defense kept Northwestern in every game last year. They had the 35th highest forced turnover percentage in the country and also had the 11th lowest turnover percentage on the offensive side. With Buie still around, the ball-control should still be there.
How do the Cats replace Chase Audige? I think Barnhizer, Langborg and Berry can pick up the points on offense. Defensively, I’m looking to the combo of Justin Mullins and Jordan Clayton who can provide a lift on that end.
The 3-point line is an area Northwestern can definitely improve. They ranked 282nd in the country at 32.1% from deep a year ago. With an improvement there and a defense that doesn’t fall too far from last year, the Wildcats should have a chance to make another run at an NCAA Tournament.