Busting Brackets

Northwestern Basketball: Wildcats Season Review

Mar 6, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Chris Collins reacts in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 6, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Chris Collins reacts in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Northwestern basketball ended the 2015 – 16 season with its first regular season 20-win campaign since 2010-11.

Northwestern has yet to make an NCAA Tournament in their program’s history. This past season was expected to be a year of improvement that could’ve ended in a game or two on college basketball’s biggest stage.

Related Story: Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions season review

Unfortunately, for the Wildcat faithful, Chris Collins’ squad dealt with injuries and a weak non-conference slate, falling short of their goal while finishing ninth in the Big Ten.

Season Review:

2015-16 Overall Record: 20-12

Conference Record: 8-10 (9th out of 14 teams)

Postseason: Second round Big Ten Tournament loss to the Michigan Wolverines (72 – 70 OT).

Individual Awards: All-Team Big Ten Honorable Mention: sophomore Bryant McIntosh.

Worst Loss: January 16th – home vs. Penn State (71 – 62).

After a great win against Wisconsin, the Wildcats followed it up with this: a 71-62 home loss to lowly Penn State. This was a game in which the two teams combined to shoot 47 three-pointers. The deciding factor? The Nittany Lions knocked down nine of theirs, while Northwestern was only 3-oof-26.

After the game, Collins lamented about Northwestern’s “lack of aggressiveness” and the stats back up that assertion. Penn State was a poor rebounding team all season, but out-rebounded Northwestern in this one 42 to 34. They also dominated at the free throw line, shooting 24-of-33. Northwestern was just 7-of-15.

In many ways this loss typified the Wildcats’ season. After the big home victory against Wisconsin, Northwestern was looking to maintain momentum and potentially go to 16-3 and 4-2 in conference. After this loss, Northwestern would finish the season with a record of 4-8.

More from Big Ten

Best Win: January 12th – home vs. Wisconsin (70 – 65).

Four days earlier, Northwestern knocked off a then reeling Wisconsin team behind 28 points from McIntosh. With the graduation of senior guard Tre Demps and center Alex Olah, McIntosh will take center stage in 2016-17. Northwestern will need more nights like this from him next year – 10-of-19 from the field, 2-of-3 from three and 6-of-8 from the foul line.

Outside of this, Northwestern pounded Wisconsin on the boards with a 34 to 25 advantage and shot 21 more free throws. It was the antithesis of what would happen four days later against the Nittany Lions.

Recap: In many ways it was a frustrating season for the Wildcats. A season-long injury to the talented sophomore wing Vic Law was crushing, as was a multi-game injury to senior forward Olah.

These injuries forced the Wildcats to rely on unproven players and inconsistency reigned, especially in the back half of the Big Ten season. Still, the emergence of McIntosh as a primary scorer was an encouraging development. It also needs to be said that Northwestern won 20 games for just the third time in its program’s history.

Still, 2015-16 feels like a missed opportunity. As unfortunate as injuries are, every team goes through them and Northwestern was bitten by it this season. With that opportunity closed, it also looks like the 2016-17 squad faces some questions.

Final Grade: C+

Key Offseason Question: Tournament Push in 2016 – 17?

Next season is year four for Chris Collins in Evanston. His record has improved each season, so it is natural to want to see the Wildcats take that “next step” and go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Can 2016 – 17 be the year? For it to happen the Wildcats will need its younger players to develop greatly in the off-season.

The graduating seniors on Northwestern accounted for nearly 45% of the team’s points. If you take away McIntosh’s 13.8 points a game that percentage jumps to almost 53%. The return of of Law will help, but Northwestern needs younger players such as now junior Scottie Lindsey and sophomore forwards Aaron Falzon and Dererk Pardon to develop and take some scoring load off McIntosh.

Northwestern is also hot on the trail for one of the most coveted 2016 graduate transfers. 6’6″ guard Canyon Barry averaged nearly 20 points a game for College of Charleston before a shoulder injury derailed his 2015-16 season in January. He is the son of NBA legend Rick Barry.

Next: Top 15 transfers of the offseason

The schools making the biggest push include Florida, Miami and Northwestern. His visit to Evanston begins this Thursday and extends into the weekend. A commitment from Barry could be huge for Northwestern’s scoring and offensive versatility.