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Wisconsin men’s basketball season preview: Northwestern

The Wildcats have a chance to make it back to the NCAA Tournament but a lot needs to break right.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 Northwestern at Rutgers
Chase Audige can fill it up but he needs to be more selective in his shot choices.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Northwestern Wildcats
Location: Evanston, Ill.
Conference: Big Ten
Head coach: Chris Collins (eighth season, 118-134)
2020-2021 record: 9-15 overall, 6-13 B1G

Top returning players: 6-foot-4, G, Chase Audige (12.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.8 apg); 6-foot-10, F, Pete Nance (11.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 apg); 6-foot-2, G, Boo Buie (10.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 4.0 apg)

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Minnesota v Northwestern
Boo Buie not only has an excellent name he’s an excellent passer.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Top newcomers: 6-foot-6, G, 4-star Casey Simmons (Milton, Mass.) ranked No. 101 by the 247 Composite; 6-foot-3, G, 3-star Julian Roper (Detroit, Mich.) ranked No. 150 by the 247 Composite; 6-foot-7, F, Elyjah Williams (13.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.1 apg) transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson; 6-foot-6, wing, 3-star Brooks Barnhizer (Lafayette, Ind.) ranked No. 151 by the 247 Composite

2020-2021 review: The Wildcats started off last season on a bizarre hot streak, if we’re being honest. NU went 6-1 to begin the year with wins over Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State in the books. Things were looking up! Northwestern was going to make another trip to the NCAA Tournament! Well,,,

After beating the Buckeyes the day after Christmas...Northwestern went on a 13-game losing streak (their third straight season with a double digit losing streak btw). KenPom notes that the Wildcats had the No. 2 most difficult schedule in the country last year and looking at that losing streak makes a lot of sense. The worst team they played over that miserable stretch was Indiana, who ended the season ranked No. 50 by KenPom.

They won their last three regular season games but then lost to Minnesota in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, ending a once promising season on a dour note.

2021-2022 preview: I began this post thinking I wouldn’t have much positive to say about Northwestern, but after doing a little reading I’m...shockingly bullish on the Wildcats this year? I don’t know how to feel...it’s all very new and strange.

The Cats return every major contributor from last year (minus sharp-shooting forward Miller Kopp who transferred to Indiana and solid rebounding guard Anthony Gaines) and most of the rotation will have been playing together for three years now. While the long losing streak from last year is hilarious, NU still doubled their Big Ten win total from the 2019-2020 season. Is winning 10 Big Ten games this year an impossible goal?

Northwestern also brought in a highly regarded three-man recruiting class (listed above) that ranked No. 6 in the Big Ten and No. 35 nationally. Evanston native Elyjah Williams transferred back home for his final season of college ball and will provide more veteran depth in the frontcourt.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Northwestern
Nance is a good shooter.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

I also think that big man Pete Nance will (finally) have a breakout campaign and could make one of the all-conference teams too. There are few 6-foot-10 guys that can do what he can do on the perimeter and in the paint, so if he puts it all together he could be the catalyst to an NU run to a tourney bid.

Will I be made to look like an idiot for believing in Northwestern men’s basketball at the end of the season? Joke’s on you, because I won’t even remember that I wrote this!

Game vs. Wisconsin: Tuesday, Jan. 18, Evanston, Ill., Welsh-Ryan Arena, BTN, 6:30 or 8 p.m. CT