The Northwestern Wildcats all but punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament in defeating Wisconsin on the road. This is no fluke, they deserve it.
It is never easy for Northwestern. Nothing is ever certain. And the season that seemed finally to be “the one” was seemingly close to slipping away.
The Wildcats’ first categorically bad loss to Illinois on Tuesday will do that. Being without Scottie Lindsey, the team’s leading scorer, will do that. Having to face Big Ten leaders Wisconsin and Maryland in their next two games will do that.
Northwestern had a firm place on the bubble. A relatively safe place. But nothing is ever certain. And trying to score the upset at the Kohl Center, nothing is ever certain.
Go on a 16-0 run to take a nine-point lead to the halftime locker room? Sure, but you are going to give up the first 10 of the second half and become involved in a close game the rest of the way.
Halt Wisconsin’s leading scorer Ethan Happ to nine points, give up 7-for-19 shooting from beyond the arc and post-up play to Nigel Hayes to keep the team close.
But on the road and without Lindsey, Northwestern responded each time. Every time the Badgers hit a bucket, Bryant McIntosh would find the space to drive in and hit one back. When Northwestern finally worked the ball to Sanjay Lumpkin in the corner for a 3-pointer, the least likely player to hit one made the backbreaker in a 66-59 win at the Kohl Center on Sunday.
Everyone played their role. Dererk Pardon provided stellar play around the rim and solid defense on Happ. McIntosh proved to be the creator for himself and for others in scoring 25 points on 10-for-23 shooting. He added seven assists and seven rebounds for good measure. Victor Law was there hitting big 3-pointers and helping out on the glass.
This Northwestern team is different. That has probably been said a million times this season before. It has always felt different but with that tinge of Northwestern doubt.
After dispatching No. Wisconsin on the road, there is no doubt. Northwestern is going to the NCAA Tournament.
The team has the resume with wins over Dayton, upstart Wake Forest and now Wisconsin. That marquee road win shines brightest. The Wildcats have avoided the piftfalls of any bad losses. Only Rutgers remains as that potential landmine at home.
The question for Northwestern with those kinds of wins is not whether the team will make the Tournament. It is about what seed Northwestern will get. That is the reality for this Wildcats team.
This is what a marquee win like this can do. It creates real belief. Maybe Northwestern can push for the Big Ten ti… Maybe that is a bit too far.
The Wildcats have a real team. This is not some Cinderella story of a team catching fire and sneaking in. The Wildcats are a firm tournament team and deserve to be so.
They got themselves the win Sunday thanks to a stifling defense that set up a 16-0 run toward the end of the first half. They trapped Happ when he caught the ball in the post and scrambled to contest 3-point shooters. The Badgers shot just 38.0 percent from the floor.
This defense has been the norm throughout the year. The Wildcats can shoot the lights out, but they rank near the top of the Big Ten in many defensive categories. Most importantly points allowed per game and defensive rating.
Northwestern has kept itself in games despite poor shooting performances in the past. Bryant McIntosh has had a career-worst shooting season and yet he has found a way to make an impact. And his team has picked up the slack offensively.
The Wildcats have all the characteristics of a tournament team. They have just never been there. Everything is new and everything is uncertain.
The Wildcats’ win over the Badgers on Sunday was enough to punch their ticket. It was the kind of win that a team gets when they are not only getting into the Tournament, but thinking about the second weekend.Or at least the second round.
Northwestern is not about to get greedy. They still should be happy to get into the Tournament to begin with.
One thing is for sure, they belong. And belong comfortably.
Barring an absolute collapse, Northwestern is going dancing. And could be a team to reckon with for the rest of the Big Ten season and in Washington, D.C. in March.
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.
— Matt Mooney (@MoonSwag13) May 14, 2018
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.