The Northwestern Wildcats struggled to hit their shots, but stayed tough until the end against the Michigan State Spartans on the road.
The Northwestern Wildcats went nearly 11 minutes without a field goal in the second half. It mirrored a stretch in the first half when the Wildcats also could not score a basket at all and fell behind by 19 points. This is typically a formula for a blowout, the kind of crushing defeat that reminds Northwestern who it is and crushes dreams.
Especially at the Breslin Center against Michigan State.
This was not a disaster. Nor an embarrassing defeat. A disappointment in a loss? Absolutely. Northwestern is beyond moral victories as the team feels closer than ever to its first NCAA Tournament berth as Big Ten season begins. These are the game the Wildcats have to learn to win.
But in Northwestern’s 61-52 loss to Michigan State on Friday, the team showed a ton of character, even more fight and a resiliency without playing their best effort nearly to topple the premiere program in the Big Ten (even in a down year).
The Wildcats showed a lot, but ultimately fell short because of their own mistakes. It is hard to win games when a team is not making shots. And down by four for what seemed like two or three minutes, Northwestern could not make a basket. Bryant McIntosh ran the pick and roll and got to the basket and could not hit his scoop shot to bring Northwestern tantalizingly close. Victor Law and Scottie Lindsey missed 3-pointers.
Eventually, Michigan State, led by Nick Ward and his 11 points and nine rebounds, were able to wear down Northwestern’s thin front court. The Spartans made 3-pointers and timely shots and eventually pulled away, using their strong defensive identity to create just a little bit of cushion.
With Bryan McIntosh (3 for 14) and Scottie Lindsey (3 for 11) struggling from the floor and Northwestern relying heavily on the 3-pointer (seven of the team’s 19 total field goals were 3-pointers), the offense dried up at the worst time and NU could not recover.
Defense often increases and gets more physical in Big Ten play. The Wildcats learned that the hard way Friday.
Northwestern’s hard-nosed rebounding
Northwestern and rebounding typically do not go together. The team has never had a dominant inside force or very many crazy athletic rebounders to dig out the 50-50 balls on missed shots.
Especially without sophomore center Derek Pardon, it is hard to see much size in Northwestern. And that went double when Barrett Benson succumbed to early foul trouble and then eventually his backup, forward Gavin Skelly, also suffered foul trouble before fouling out.
Northwestern had to play small against Ward with Nathan Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin defending him and Northwestern having to double the post hard to get the ball out of his hands.
They executed that part extremely well and, somewhat surprisingly, had complete control of the glass. Considering the team’s lack of size and ample missed shots throughout the game.
Northwestern lost the raw rebound battle 43-27, but a lot of that is a product of their massive amount of missed shots — Northwestern shot 35.8 percent for the game and 28.6 percent in the second half.
The Wildcats grabbed six offensive rebounds for a decent 15.4 percent offensive rebound rate. The Spartans had 10 for a 32.3 percent offensive rebound rate.
Michigan State still won the battle on the glass statistically. And in the end, those extra opportunities hurt Northwestern ultimately.
But as the Wildcats needed to get back into the game, they pulled down some killer rebounds. Victor Law finished with nine rebounds to go with his 16 points. Sanjay Lumpkin had six. That is 15 of the Wildcats’ 27 total rebounds.
Many of these were not easy rebounds either. The Wildcats are going to rely on this rebounding to make up for their lack of size until Pardon returns or until Benson becomes more reliable in the post.
3-pointers are success and failure
Northwestern made nearly half their field goals from beyond the arc, hitting seven of 19 3-pointers. The Wildcats made just 12 of 34 shots inside the arc. The Wildcats were not afraid to hoist from beyond the arc and it was what kept them in the game and took them out of it.
The Wildcats are not a bad 3-point shooting team by any stretch. They shoot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc for the season. Northwestern is a good shooting team.
But, as with most shooting teams, there can be an overreliance on the shot. And Northwestern fell into that trap on several occasions Friday.
Michigan State did a good job setting the tone defensively with some physical play on the perimeter. They did a good job keeping Northwestern from driving into the lane and going through their basic ball reversals around the perimeter.
Eventually, this led to the team hoisting 3-pointers because there were no other options.
Lindsey made 3 of his 6 attempts. Bryant McIntosh missed all three of his in a rough night for him. Sanjay Lumpkin made 1 of 3.
The Wildcats were OK from beyond the arc. But their struggle to get shots to go in and create quality opportunities haunted them throughout the game.
Bryant McIntosh has to play well
Bryant McIntosh’s struggles this year are quickly becoming a rough story for Northwestern’s feel-good bid.
McIntosh made just 3 of 14 shots to score seven points and go with five assists. That included a couple of tough misses close to the basket late in the game that would have helped Northwestern pull ever closer.
McIntosh’s shooting struggles have been prevalent all season. He is averaging just 11.7 points per game and shooting 35.1 percent from the floor and 24.6 percent from beyond the arc. These are all well below his career averages for the stellar point guard.
The Wildcats do not need McIntosh to be on the ball or carry the scoring load like he did last year, but he is still their best player breaking players down off the dribble. He is still their best player making decisions and getting into the lane to create for others.
Northwestern needs more from McIntosh to succeed and achieve their goals.
McIntosh still plays that way, he is just not making shots. And that was even more stark in Friday’s loss. When Northwestern needed a basket, McIntosh could not deliver. His cold start to the season could hold Northwestern back.
WATCH: Northwestern unveils inside look at Welsh-Ryan Arena
After a year spent at the strange confines of Allstate Arena out in Rosemont, the Northwestern Wildcats basketball teams will return home to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the 2018-19 season.
On Friday, the Wildcats released a video look at what the new-look arena actually looks like ahead of the opener.
Take a look at this state-of-the-art arena built around the old school appearance on the outside.
Northwestern Wildcats caught in a bind with Jordan Lathon’s surprise release
Northwestern University has rescinded their offer of admission to star guard Jordan Lathon. That leaves Northwestern in a deep bind at point guard.
The Northwestern Wildcats have seen a sudden rash of transfers that have begun to gut the roster some. Especially at the important point guard position.
One more loss might be the biggest and most mysterious of them all.
Friday, Inside NU reports Northwestern had rescinded its offer of admission and the national letter of intent to Jordan Lathon. Lathon responded on Twitter, thanking coach Chris Collins and the Northwestern community for their support. It is not clear at this point why Lathon was unable to enroll at Northwestern.
Whatever the issues are — whether it was Lathon not meeting some requirement or Lathon deciding to go to a different school — everyone has to hope Lathon find the place and the situation that fits best for him — both on and off the court.
There will be an undoubted effect on the court for the Wildcats in losing this prized recruit.
Lathon was a four-star prospect from Grandview, Missouri. He was undoubtedly one of the best recruits — at least from the recruiting services — ever to come to Northwestern. The kind of player that only Chris Collins seemed capable of getting for this program. And, yes, a direct beneficiary of the Wildcats’ first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
With Bryant McIntosh graduating and Isiah Brown transferring, Northwestern was thin at point guard. There seemed to be a very realistic chance Lathon would start this year. His departure leaves the Wildcats with just Jordan Ash and Anthony Gaines to play point guard. Both struggled to stay in the rotation last year.
That puts the Wildcats in a major bind on the court. The team is going to need someone to step up. And then eventually to find a long-term answer at the position — possibly in the upcoming recruiting class now that Lathon is gone.
It is hard to say a whole lot about Lathon’s situation. The reason he will not be attending Northwestern is unclear. All we know is Northwestern denied his admission for whatever reason.
And now Chris Collins will have to scramble to find a replacement or make due with what he has and hope someone steps up.
Recruiting loss leaves Northwestern in a point guard bind
The Northwestern Wildcats struggled with their point guard depth last year, relying heavily on Bryant McIntosh. Now he is gone and a recruiting loss leaves a lot of questions at this critical spot.
The Northwestern Wildcats’ disappointing basketball season last year seemed like a blip on the road to consistent respectability. This was still a program and a team on the rise with a strong head coach, a renovated building and the budding confidence to assert itself.
Last year’s team — largely a run back of the previous year’s breakthrough NCAA Tournament team — never quite got itself off the ground. Perhaps everyone expected success to roll over easy. Maybe the team really missed the intangible tough qualities from graduating senior Sanjay Lumpkin. Maybe injuries were just too much to overcome.
It was not a good year. But optimism remains for 2019.
The Wildcats know they will have their work cut out for them in the debut of the new Welsh-Ryan Arena. They have veteran players like Vic Law and Dererk Pardon to anchor the team. But it has also been a summer of massive change for the program.
The team will be moving into the renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena at some point. But more importantly, the loss of seniors Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey leave a gaping hole for the program. Especially considering the other attrition from the roster — Rapolas Ivanauskas and Isiah Brown’s transfer.
If there was another contributing factor that no one spoke of that led to Northwestern’s difficult season, it was the poor development of young players, especially at guard.
Brown struggled to step into the role as the backup point guard, averaging 3.9 points per game and playing just 10.8 minutes per game. Freshman Anthony Gaines did not fare much better, averaging 4.0 points per game in 18.6 minutes per game.
McIntosh, even through injuries and his own shooting struggles, had to carry a heavy creation load for the team last year. He played 31.3 minutes per game for the season. And Lindsey and Law had to carry a heavy minutes burden too. Northwestern’s poor depth put a lot of strain on the team and it simply was not able to hold up.
That does not bode well with two of those heavy minute players gone. Their replacements are not particularly clear — although with a hopefully healthy Law, the team seems loaded on wings.
That is what made the pursuit of grad transfer Matt Mooney seemingly more important.
The South Dakota guard averaged 18.7 points per game and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc. He is not going to completely change everyone’s fortunes, but he is clearly a capable scorer. And his recruitment in the grad transfer market was heated.
Northwestern already had a win in the grad transfer market with Ryan Taylor. But the team would not win this one. That will leave the Wildcats incredibly thin and uncertain at point guard.
That puts Northwestern in a tough spot at point guard.
Senior Jordan Ash, sophomore Anthony Gaines and incoming freshman Jordan Lathon are the only ball handlers on the roster now. Ash and Gaines have struggled in their time at Northwestern. Ash played only 11.3 minutes per game last year and has not taken that step forward.
Lathon is an intriguing prospect. He is a four-star prospect according to 247Sports and someone who could make an immediate impact. Freshmen can be fickle and unreliable, of course, but the Wildcats may not have any other options.
This is the hole the Wildcats will have to figure out heading into the season in November.
There is still a lot of time and Lathon and the other freshman have not arrived on campus. But Collins, despite winning the recruiting rankings relative to Northwestern, has not been as solid a player development coach as thought.
Ivanauskas was a celebrated recruit when he arrived in Evanston. Injuries kept him from making an impact in his first two years, but he is now gone from the program.
Law, the most celebrate recruit to arrive in Evanston, has had a solid career. He generated some NBA buzz, but it has been largely uneven too.
Collins may not have missed often enough to deter Northwestern’s seeming march forward. But there have been more than a few misses that have hurt the team’s depth.
A strong recruiting class with Pete Nance and Miller Kopp will add further depths on the wing. The Wildcats reaped the rewards from their NCAA Tournament appearance.
This should be a team in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament again in 2019. But it will only go as far as its point guard development can take it. If Lathon can make an immediate impact then Northwestern could again break through.
If he cannot, the losses in recruiting will stand out that much more.
Northwestern Wildcats basketball seeks some punch in a grad transfer
The Northwestern Wildcats went to the transfer market to bolster their offense as the program tries to replace some key players and get back into the NCAA Tournament.
The Northwestern Wildcats basketball season did not end how anyone would want it. The careers for Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey did not end how anyone wanted them to. This is not the how the team was supposed to follow up its breakthrough NCAA Tournament season.
After that season went away, attention quickly turned to how the Wildcats would make the new Welsh-Ryan Arena feel like home. Northwestern was losing a lot — McIntosh was essentially the team’s heart and soul. And there was an unusual amount of attrition with Rapolas Ivanauskas and Isaiah Brown.
The Wildcats return Victor Law and Dererk Pardon as the anchors for their team. They will need to see more from Anthony Gaines and likely from incoming freshman Jordan Lathon. The Wildcats have some serious holes as they try to bounce back from last year.
Chris Collins dug into the transfer market and hoped to find someone who can help the Wildcats take that next step.
Former Evansville wing Ryan Taylor will transfer to Northwestern as a graduate transfer. Taylor averaged 21.2 points per game and shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc for Evansville last year. He scored 47 total points in two games against Loyola (Chicago) last year, but there is not a ton of high-level competition on his immediate resume.
Either way, adding the 6-foot-6 forward will help Northwestern replace some of the production lost from Scottie Lindsey. And seeing him pick Northwestern over some other big schools makes this a big get.
As Bryce Bennett of BT Powerhouse notes, this commitment is a big deal for Northwestern. Taylor adds some much-needed shooting something Lindsey struggled with last year.
The team will return Law and Pardon as the anchors from that tournament team. Collins has helped add some talented wing players. But his freshman have not been ready to contribute immediately. Adding in role players like Aaron Falzon and sitting transfer A.J. Turner could make the Wildcats a dangerous team again.
But things will have to come together for them again. In a way they did not last year despite all the pieces being in place. If Northwestern learned anything last year, it is that nothing is guaranteed. Getting back to the tournament will take a lot of work.
And talent alone will not get there. Nor will the expectation of getting there.
Northwestern still has some major holes to fill. With McIntosh gone, the point guard position still feels like an open competition heading into the summer. Northwestern will have experienced wings to help spread the floor. And the team will need Law more than ever to play consistently — he seemed to tire out as the season went on last year.
It is looking like Northwestern will have a lot of the pieces again to make a run. Assuming the team continues to grow and comes together — especially on defense.
Adding a transfer like Taylor will only add to that puzzle. It makes for a potentially exciting a potent offense for the Wildcats this coming season.
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