By Koby Weisman
Northwestern’s men’s basketball team is currently 4-10 in the Big Ten season. Despite this subpar record, there is some reason for optimism moving forward. The ‘Cats have won their past three games, the most recent being a 21 point blowout against Penn State. Head coach Chris Collins is molding the freshmen players to his offense and giving them valuable experience. This has set the freshman class up for a strong finish to the season. Chemistry between players has risen and the offensive scheme has become increasingly successful. There are four games left in the regular season and each game is winnable. Even though the ‘Cats are out of contention for the NCAA tournament, they could end the season positively with a full head of steam entering the Big Ten tournament.
Here are previews for the team’s four remaining regular season games:
Feb 25th vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers are one of the more talented teams in the Big Ten. Junior guard Yogi Ferrell, who is the 5th leading scorer in the Big Ten and 4th in assists, leads them. Indiana is a high-scoring team—16th in the nation—that can drain jumpers from beyond the arc with ease. They are first in the Big Ten in three-pointers made and three-point percentage. Indiana’s most lethal player is freshman James Blackmon Jr. who was the 20th ranked prospect coming out of high school. He is second on the team in both points and rebounds. The ‘Cats and Hoosiers have yet to meet this year, but last season they split the series in two highly competitive games. Look for an exciting matchup and the distinct possibility of the ‘Cats extending their win streak.
Feb 28th at Illinois
The previous meeting between the ‘Cats and Fighting Illini was a close one so expect nothing less from this game. Illinois’s senior guard Rayvonte Rice has been a dominant force when healthy, and Malcolm Hill leads the team in minutes played and is the second leading scorer. However, the key to this game is perimeter defense. In their last meeting, Kendrick Nunn dropped 25 points on the ‘Cats and made four three-pointers. Illinois is in the middle of the Big Ten standings and are a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. This is a must-win for the Illini, so expect a hard-fought game.
March 3rd vs. Michigan
The last game played between Northwestern and Michigan was a nail biter. Northwestern had an opportunity to send the game into overtime with a last second shot, but it did not fall. However, this close game demonstrated that the NU basketball team is more experienced and understands Michigan’s weaknesses. Further helping NU’s cause is that Michigan’s best player, Caris Levert, has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. Michigan struggles without LeVert and as a result has been doing poorly in Big Ten play over the past month. If the Northwestern guards, McIntosh and Demps, continue to play well, Northwestern should come out victorious.
March 7th at Iowa
On February 15th Northwestern and Iowa met at Welsh-Ryan Arena for the closest Northwestern game of the year. The game was sent into overtime by an amazing shot by Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff who accounted for 25 of his team’s 61 points. The ‘Cats main goal in this game will be to stop Uthoff. It will be a challenge, as good defenders such as Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, or Scottie Lindsey should be guarding him at all times. Adam Woodbury, Iowa’s aggressive seven-foot junior, will also keep Northwestern center Alex Olah occupied on defense. Iowa’s captain, Aaron White, has averaged double digits in points since his freshman year at Iowa. He is their most consistent player and has been trouble for the ‘Cats in past years. Rebounding and aggressiveness will be the key to this game.