The Wisconsin Badgers (19-10 overall, 12-6 B1G) are celebrating Senior Night aka Pritzl Day with the chance to move into a tie for first place with the Terps and the Spartans on Wednesday against the Northwestern Wildcats (7-21 overall, 2-16 B1G).
Noah Coffman from Inside NU stopped by to answer some questions about the ‘Cats before the game.
1) ::looks at Northwestern’s record:: So, uh, what happened this year?
Well, they’re not good! The Wildcats just snapped their longest losing streak in 19 years with an 81-76 overtime victory against Nebraska, which came about in large part because the Cornhuskers went 8-30 (8-30!!!!!!!!!) from the free throw line, the lowest percentage in NCAA history (!) for a team that took 30 free throws. And the game still went to overtime!
Northwestern is shockingly bad in close games, doesn’t have a go-to scorer, allows opposing teams to get open threes whenever they want, doesn’t turn anybody over, and, 28 games into the season, no longer has the youth excuse to fall back on. This was, of course, expected to be a rebuilding year.
But even the most pessimistic of ‘Cats fans couldn’t have predicted the complete ineptitude in non-conference play. The lack of close-game success has been more of a constant over the Collins era (excluding the 2017 NCAA Tournament team), but even that has reached a tipping point this season. Bottom line: it’s bad, and showing no signs of significant improvement in the near future.
2) Obviously one of the reasons for NU’s rough season is how young the roster is. Which players have impressed you and given you hope for improvement next season?
Well, arguably the most consistently impressive player is grad transfer and former lacrosse star Pat Spencer, which isn’t particularly encouraging.
Outside of that, Miller Kopp (pictured below) has shown the ability to score in bunches and carry the team in that regard during certain situations, though his consistency and non-scoring aspects of his game could stand to see some improvement. Ryan Young has been quietly very solid in the middle, and it’s been nice to see a passable Big Ten center develop as an unheralded redshirt freshman.
Boo Buie has his moments, but his defense, shot selection, and decision-making need significant refinement, as is to be expected in part out of a true freshman. Jared Jones and Robbie Beran have each had three or four-game spans during conference play where they suddenly looked ready to bust out before regression struck, but both have plenty of promise.
3) Is Chris Collins on the hot seat or does he get a pass this year and given the chance to develop his young roster into an NCAA Tournament contender again?
No matter how bad this season finishes, there is virtually no chance that Collins will be ousted before next season. This was always pitched as a significant rebuild, and though the fans are really getting restless all signs (namely a contract with five years left on it) point to a long leash from the administration. But patience, as it does with any team this historically bad, is starting to wear thin.
Next season will likely be when judgement is passed. If this roster doesn’t see significant improvement (I’m talking NIT contention, which would require about a nine-game record jump), Collins and his staff are in deep trouble.
High scorer for NU: Kopp carried things offensively against Nebraska, and has impressed lately. Let’s just say that if it’s not him, the ‘Cats will be in real trouble.
High scorer for UW: If Brad Davison wants them, he will have as many open threes as he could possibly ask for. I’m going with the buzzcut.
Over/under 9.5 turnovers for the Cats: Over. By a lot.
Does Northwestern win a game in the B1G tourney: Absolutely not.
Does the women’s team win the B1G tourney: They’ve got a tough path, with Iowa and Maryland looming. I say they get past the Hawkeyes in the semis, but the Terps take them down in a nail biter.
Who wins this game: Whoever isn’t watching it. (Wisconsin)
Final score: Northwestern hangs around weirdly for about 35 minutes, keeping the deficit between six and 10. Badgers win 75-61. Rinse and repeat.