It’s a weird, unsettling, and exciting time to be a Northwestern basketball fan. And I’m honestly not sure how to deal with that.
Long gone are the 1-3-1 zone, European centers, and Princeton Offense that I always thought would lead us to the Promised Land. In their place are a stifling man defense, actual attention to crashing the boards, and a lively offense predicated on off-ball and UCLA screens.
Long gone are the undersized guards short on stars but long on grit—the Craig Moores, Dave Sobolewskis, and Juice Thompsons of the world. In their place are stars, stars, and...some talent to go with them, as Northwestern continues to roll in highly-touted recruits like Pete Nance and Anthony Gaines.
Long gone is the Never Made the Tournament Club. In its place are expectations.
I don’t know if y’all heard about this—the Northwestern Wildcats, (as my grandmother says) OG members of the Never Made the Tournament Club, made the NCAA Tournament. I went there. I celebrated a win. I was optimistic after a loss.
Perhaps we should rewind.
After a non-descript non-conference schedule that included heartbreakers against Butler and Notre Dame, a then-upset of Texas, and Good Wins over Wake Forest and Dayton, the ‘Cats overcame a couple losses to tournament teams in Michigan State and Minnesota, then ran off 6 straight Big Ten wins.
But nah, of course it wasn’t that fucking easy. Injuries, illnesses, and usual dumbfuckery meant the ‘Cats found themselves in desperate need of wins. Enter a relatively dominant win at the Kohl Center. Enter surviving against rutger. But it wasn’t enough--yet. In walked Michigan.
We’re never gonna stop showing that.
If that wasn’t enough, the ‘Cats walked into Washington, D.C., and beat Maryland in front of 17,000 Maryland fans in the Big Ten Tournament, just to punch their ticket for sure.
You can read what I wrote about the NCAA Tournament above. It was amazing, life-changing, and an experience I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
But now it’s time to talk about this year.
Key Losses: F Sanjay Lumpkin (27.8 mpg, 6.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 8.4 fouls per minute); F Nathan Taphorn (12.2 mpg, 47.0% 3pt on 39/83)
Key Additions: G Anthony Gaines (3*), F AJ Turner (Boston College transfer—must sit out)
Projected Starting Five (2016 stats):
PG Bryant McIntosh* (14.8 ppg, 5.2 apg)
SG Scottie Lindsey* (14.1 ppg, 42% FG)
SF Vic Law* (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
PF Aaron Falzon (DNP 2016—knee)
C Dererk Pardon* (8.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.8 bpg)
Having lost negligible scoring but immeasurable GRIT, lunch-pailiness, and occasional 3-point shooting with the graduations of Glue Guy Sanjay Lumpkin and Super-Efficient Mega Three-Point Shooting Nathan Taphorn, Northwestern will rely, as ever, on the guiding hand of senior guard Bryant McIntosh (2nd Team All-B1G in 2016-17) and redshirt junior forward Vic Law’s hard-nosed defense and offensive burst. Their leadership is bolstered by what will hopefully be more steady—and healthy—play from 3rd-Team All-B1G shooting guard/small forward Scottie Lindsey, who can score in bunches.
For perhaps the first time in my life, though, I feel...oddly confident in Northwestern’s interior play. Dererk Pardon is due to continue making strides at the center position, where the ‘Cats will rely on more consistent offense from the Cleveland junior. He’s backed up by the capable sophomore Barret Benson and the douche with the hair you all love to hate, Gavin Skelly. There’s physicality, attitude, and athleticism to go with raw talent, and there’s size on the interior to be reckoned with.
In fact, nearly every position besides McIntosh’s is staffed by a capable backup (freshman Anthony Gaines can fill in here the 5 mpg a game BMac comes out, I guess). Isiah Brown—who I like as a shooter but not a field general—has Tre Demps-level “what the fuck” talent in flashes when Lindsey comes out. Power forward is the one potential bugaboo, as Rapolas Ivanauskas will back Aaron Falzon on the wing with shooting and slashing ability, while Skelly can provide a weaker offensive option at the 4.
Overall, though, you see a deep Northwestern roster that will likely play ten guys with regularity. It’s a testament to the roster-building project Chris Collins has attacked with passion and ferocity, and it might just make a believer out of this cynic.
What to Watch For
 Play at the 4. Well...we should talk about the ‘Cats on the wings. Aaron Falzon is a capable shooter, as (supposedly) is Ivanauskas, but neither of those two offers quite the level of physicality or defense you need to play in the Big Ten. Northwestern (like most teams) tends to go four-out on offense, rendering that issue somewhat moot—Rap and Falzon should provide buckets—but the watching this play out over the season grind will be interesting.
 Home Sweet...Rosemont? There’s also the real issue of Northwestern playing at Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont, just a stop away from O’Hare on the Blue Line. While the AD will claim that it’s opening up “a whole new fan demographic” and that they can “bus students to games,” they’re fucking fooling themselves. Allstate will be every bit the mausoleum it was for DePaul games, only with the added “bonus” of thousands of Big Ten alumni in the Chicagoland area ready to hop on the Blue Line with more readily available tickets.
Can the ‘Cats survive playing the equivalent of about 14-15 road games if opposing fans pack Allstate? We’ll wait and find out.
 Living up to expectations. This one’s pretty obvious, right? Between 2017-18 and 2018-19 the identity Chris Collins wanted to impose on Northwestern basketball should be fully realized. However, damn if they didn’t up and achieve the unthinkable a full year ahead of schedule. With a national ranking (19/20) and the loss of media darling status, the pressure is now on the ‘Cats to repeat and maybe even finish in the top 4 of the Big Ten.
While Northwestern fans make act outwardly confident in our team’s newfound ability to be competent, don’t be fooled—we’re all terrified it’s all going to come crashing down.
Northwestern Basketball Schedule 2017-18
|18-Nov||1:30pm||La Salle (Hall of Fame Tip-Off)||137||ESPN3|
|19-Nov||TBD||Texas Tech/Boston College (Hall of Fame Tip-Off)||ESPN2|
|17-Feb||1pm||(2) Michigan State||10||FOX|
The non-conference schedule for Northwestern is one without many marquee names, per se, but one that will provide one of the best opportunities across the conference for a solid double-digit win-total and a fine SOS walking into Big Ten play.
With the exception of hosting Creighton in Rosemont, all Northwestern’s difficult non-conference matchups are on the road or at neutral sites. They should be able to walk out winners from their (mediocre) tournament, the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Uncasville, CT, and road matchups with Georgia Tech (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) and Oklahoma (front end of a home-and-home) would be acceptable losses but also provide real chances for a win. If I were a betting man, I’d send the ‘Cats into the Big Ten slate at 11-2.
Big Ten play is a total crapshoot as always, but the ‘Cats do benefit by getting Purdue early (albeit on the road) and Michigan State (at home) as single-plays. The hellish stretch will be late January into early February, when Northwestern heads on the road for 5 of 6, including three straight at Minnesota, Michigan, and wisconsin. Woof.
The key, then, is another hot start to Big Ten play, with Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State at home, along with road plays at Penn State and Indiana. Come out of that 4-2 or 5-1, and I feel better about the ‘Cats chances to repeat dancing. 3-3 or worse, though, and we’re worried that Northwestern needs to steal a road win in that hell-stretch before a three-game home-stand with Michigan State, Maryland, and wisconsin. It’s not pretty at points, but Chris Collins’ team is capable of eking out close games and fitting into Big Ten basketball. I have them in the Big Ten slate at 10-8, getting a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Northwestern’s Big Ten record will be...
This poll is closed
6-12 or worse
12-6 or better
Northwestern record predictions, 2017-18
Minus that Chris Collins appears to have kicked Candystripes’ puppy or something, the staff has the ‘Cats as a bubble-to-at-large team in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Ye gods.
Vote in the polls and give us your thoughts for the Northwestern basketball season in the comments!
In 2017-18 Northwestern will...
This poll is closed
Win 20+ games and return to the NCAA Tournament
Win 20+ games but stumble to the NIT
Win fewer than 20 games but make the NIT
Miss the postseason entirely