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Northwestern Wildcats exposed at Illinois, warts and all

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The Northwestern Wildcats remain on track to make their first NCAA Tournament. But there are some clear weaknesses that continue to get exposed.

The Northwestern Wildcats are a bubble team. Or not a bubble team. The Wildcats are still fairly safe that they will get into the NCAA Tournament. About the only thing that will prevent Northwestern from its first NCAA Tournament is a complete collapse, losing the final five games of the season.

This is Northwestern, though. That bug always exists. The Wildcats are always a collapse away from terror. This is the program that has seen impossible leads collapse and every opportunity to make the tournament.

When you are doing something for the first time, every loss gets jittery. Especially when they come against a team that is clearly not making the tournament in Illinois. Especially when that Illinois team seems to have your number.

There are bigger problems than losing the Illini twice for the Wildcats. Northwestern has seen its big weaknesses exposed in the last two games — a win over Rutgers and a loss to Illinois. The Wildcats grip on their Tournament dreams is strong, but there are signs it is loosening.

And Northwestern must correct these if it is to make that run and do what was previously impossible.

The Wildcats though are not a shoo-in to the Big Dance. They still have work to do. They are likely to continue running into these same problems.

Scottie Lindsey, playing his second game after missing three weeks with mono, continues to work his way into the rotation. He shot 1 for 11 in 26 minutes during Northwestern’s 66-50 loss to Illinois on Tuesday.

That was a symptom of a larger problem. With Victor Law in foul trouble for much of the game and Lindsey recovering, the offense fell fully on Bryant McIntosh. It created the kind of inefficient and desperate offense that made Northwestern look like. . .  Northwestern.

The Wildcats shot 5 for 27 (18.5 percent) in the second half. This after a first half where they struggled with turnovers and keeping their head above water. Northwestern was lucky to be down by one at the half with some of the poor play.

The second half became an exercise in watching McIntosh try to create and finding little room or gap to score. McIntosh finished with 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting. Hardly the efficient night.

This was somewhat similar to how Saturday’s game against Rutgers went too.

Northwestern struggled to gain much offensive traction until McIntosh saved the day late. McIntosh was able to make the plays as Northwestern kept the game close. Much of that game was spent finding the guts to pull out a win. It was a moment coach Chris Collins said he was proud of his team for.

That will to win will take Northwestern far. But it cannot take them all the way. Not when the team is playing so inefficiently.

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It was a stark reminder of how fragile Northwestern’s offense is. The team relies heavily on its main scorers — Law, Lindsey and McIntosh. When they struggle, the team struggles dramatically.

And things got worse because of what happened on the other end. Northwestern, despite having Dererk Pardon, struggles to control bigs well. Illinois had 11 offensive rebounds and

Illinois had 11 offensive rebounds and Maverick Morgan was a presence inside with nine points and 11 rebounds. The Wildcats could not control the glass and get transition opportunities throughout the night. Not even when the team gave up a respectable 37.0 percent shooting in the second half.

Securing the offensive glass was a big reason Rutgers stayed in and had a chance to give Northwestern a crippling loss last weekend. The Scarlet Knights recorded 17 offensive rebounds, scoring a bevy of second-chance points.

Northwestern’s defense gave the team every opportunity to get back into the game. And the team could not find the shots. The team settled for bad shots and could not crack Illinois’ suddenly strong defense.

Like the first time Northwestern lost to Illinois, this is not a killer loss. It does not kill Northwestern’s Tournament visions. The Wildcats still control their own destiny. And likely one more win — at Indiana, vs. Michigan and vs. Purdue — gets them into the Tournament. The Wildcats are still on pace to get a two-day bye at the Big Ten Tournament, although that competition has heated up now too thanks to losses to Minnesota and Michigan State earlier this season.

Northwestern has found it is not a straight line to the NCAA Tournament. It never would be for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats have done well to put themselves in the driver’s seat. But they are not home yet. They have some clear weaknesses. Rutgers dominated the inside as did Caleb Swannigan and Purdue. So too did Illinois.

Throw in Northwestern’s inconsistent offensive attack — going through a drought of late — and there are clear holes for the Wildcats. There are clear areas they need to improve.

NU is on track to make that first NCAA Tournament berth. But nothing is ever for sure with Northwestern.

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

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Widcats Basketball

WATCH: Northwestern unveils inside look at Welsh-Ryan Arena

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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. 

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Northwestern

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.

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Bryant McIntosh, Chris Collins, Northwestern Wildcats

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.

https://twitter.com/j2lathon/status/1000145538745028608

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.

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Northwestern

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.

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Northwestern Wildcats, Jordan Ash

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.

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Northwestern

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.

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Chris Collins, Northwestern Wildcats

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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