The 2021-22 Northwestern Wildcats brought one of the most experienced lineups in the Big Ten to the table.
They went 15-16 (7-13).
They did not play in the postseason.
How bad was it?
Here’s what I wrote in October 2021:
This is it for Chris Collins: NIT or bust.
The 2016-17 Northwestern basketball season is but a distant memory.
In story after story since then, Northwestern has run a sloppy offense, shot the ball poorly, and seen its assist/TO ratios drop as it invariably goes on a lengthy losing streak in Big Ten play. They have struggled to develop any kind of true consistency out of each batch of the latest “best recruits in program history” while striking out in the transfer portal, whether with the mercurial A.J. Turner (Boston College), indifferent Ryan Taylor (Evansville), and gritty gym rat Pat Spencer (Dr. Loyola lacrosse, you may have heard, though it’s fair to note Spencer wasn’t a whiff but rather was surrounded by so much incompetence it didn’t matter).
I’m here to tell you that THIS year, Northwestern, now with their best recruits in program history having become veterans, a second year of contributions from a high-profile transfer, and another transfer with scoring potential...
It was worth noting that, somehow, the ‘Cats outperformed most OTE writers’ lowly expectations...
...and yet they were a colossal fucking disappointment.
What went wrong?
Same shit, different year. Injuries, lack of a big-time playmaker, and no coaching creativity to pick up the pieces when it was done.
The story went as most NU seasons have under Chris Collins. Very few non-conference games of note: the ‘Cats lost a neutral site game to Providence Friars, a roadie in OT to Wake Forest, and lost 8 of their first 10 Big Ten games. (Of course, there was a road upset of then-#10 Michigan State, meaning Tom Izzo will loudly protest Chris Collins’ eventual firing.)
Northwestern flashed life with three straight wins over horseshit team Rutgers, try-hard team Nebraska, and NCAA Tournament team Indiana—but this team wasn’t going anywhere. The rest of the way, the ‘Cats beat Nebraska two more times and Minnesota once.
That was it: 15-16, with a mediocre 7-13 in the Big Ten and a Wednesday game at the Big Ten Tournament.
Who do we blame?
I don’t know. Everyone.
- G Chase Audige started the year hurt and, when he came back, was woefully inefficient on offense, jacking up long contested twos and clanging threes like they were going out of style. Audige is phenomenal on defense and rebounding, but just an absolute liability post-injury.
- That meant more of the backcourt offense fell on PG Boo Buie, who remained an assist machine but had to shoulder more of the offensive load. I’ll give you three guesses how you think he did at this.
- Of course, there was still supposed to be a playmaker! That, of course, was supposed NBA Draft candidate, F Pete Nance. Yet, down the stretch of a few big games, Nance was on the bench. He struggled with physicality inside and, while he could hit threes at a decent clip, rarely took over the game.
- As a result, who was left? PG Ryan Greer was a career backup who gave it his add, but was just naturally limited. ESPN 4-star recruits G Casey Simmons and G Julian Roper II occasionally cracked the lineup and provided nice hustle and spark, but they’re not all there yet offensively—same for 3-star F Brooks Barnhizer. G Ty Berry could hit some threes, but runs hot and cold—his energy and hustle, though, is unimpeachable. F Robbie Beran...ostensibly serves some purpose. Let’s say it’s “three and D”. At some point he’ll be good at one of those. C Ryan Young was a burst of YMCA-esque energy off the bench—the Human Cooler of opponents’ runs—but struggled with his offensive efficiency and still can’t hit a thing beyond 8-9 feet. The same went, more or less, for transfer F Elyjah Williams.
Above all, though, it’s on Chris Collins. Northwestern brought enough defensive intensity and hit the defensive glass in ways the ‘Cats haven’t historically, but good ball rotation or a competent big man would stymie their defense: opponents shot 36.9% from deep—the 334th-worst defensive rate in the nation, the 287th-worst total rebounding clip...
...and none of that speaks to the absolute lack of offense.
Look, Chris Collins wants this to be a Duke offense. Four or five out, slashing wings, positionless basketball.
It’s been nine years. He can’t get those players to Evanston or in working order.
His teams can’t shoot, don’t defend well enough to make up for that lack of shooting, and can’t adapt to the realities of playing in the Big Ten.
So he’s gone, right? You said “NIT or Bust”!
Chris Collins officially getting another year at Northwestern. Here’s part of a statement from Northwestern AD Dr. Derrick Gragg: pic.twitter.com/jWXMNobUcn— Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central) March 14, 2022
Great. A “we’re looking into it”.
On we march into 2022-23, no changes made, no new players suggesting anything will change. Ryan Young has thrown his name into the transfer portal. It’ll be Buie and Audige and who the hell knows.
Northwestern basketball is dead. Long live Northwestern basketball.
Anything to look forward to?
Fuck you, Jon Rothstein, pony up and sponsor that bar night:
Dear Northwestern Fans and Alumni,— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 11, 2021
If your team does not make the NCAA Tournament in 2022, I will personally fly to Chicago and sponsor a Happy Hour in Wrigleyville prior to a Cubs game where you can all drown your collective frustrations.