Northwestern Basketball is back, and...better than expected! In an exhibition game against Quincy University, Northwestern dropped triple digits in a 105-64 win at Welsh-Ryan. In stark contrast to last season, the ‘Cats looked poised, energetic, and confident.
Granted, Quincy is a Division II school. It is difficult to determine which positives from this game can be attributed to the competition versus true improvement from the 2018-19 squad; after all, NU was picked to finish last in the Big Ten. However, this was undeniably a team that looked cohesive and, perhaps most importantly, was fun to watch.
Below I have compiled some unfiltered notes from the sole exhibition on Northwestern’s schedule. These are meant to help make some sense of what we saw on the court tonight.
- We have to start with Pat Spencer, the graduate transfer from Loyola (Md.) who also happens to be the reigning Division I lacrosse player of the year. He was awesome tonight. In his 18 minutes (fewer than most other players), Spencer was flying around the court and was fearless with the rock. Somewhat abnormally, he frequently changed direction near the rim and drew his fair share of fouls. Now, Spencer did have his moments where his inexperience showed. He committed 2 fouls and 2 turnovers in the first half while only scoring 2 points; he also missed 2 of his 4 free throws in the contest. But his second half performance was damn near perfect. Spencer went 7-7 from the field and added 2 assists and 2 steals. Above all, he was clearly the best athlete on the court, evidenced by his highlight reel dunks. In an offense that will be more up tempo than last year (more below), that matters.
- This performance just felt different than last year’s lethargic squad, particularly on the offensive end. After nearly every rebound, Northwestern sprinted up the court, generating a healthy dose of fast breaks. They outscored Quincy on fast breaks 20-3. Northwestern won’t be as big or as talented as the vast majority of Big Ten teams they play this year; head coach Chris Collins clearly understands this and wants to win by being faster and more energetic.
- Then there’s the shooting. NU went 12-27 from beyond the arc tonight, which comes out to 44%. In comparison, they shot 31% from deep last year. The leader in this department was Boo Buie (yes, it’s an incredible name), who went 4-8. Miller Kopp, Anthony Gaines, and A.J. Turner - the three most familiar names on this roster - each added two three-pointers of their own.
- Buie looked excellent as well. The true freshman guard had 18 points on 7-12 shooting, 5 assists and 2 steals; he also picked up three fouls. Like Spencer, Bouie was high-energy and played confidently. He also threw a beautiful alley oop to Spencer. I credit his and Spencer’s solid display entirely to Northwestern’s hiring of Bryant McIntosh as assistant director of basketball operations.
- The Northwestern bench scored 64 points, as many as Quincy scored in the game. Buie and Spencer both looked better than sophomore starting guard Ryan Greer, so some changes to the starting lineup are definitely possible.
- Despite scoring 105 points, no player scored more than 20. The ‘Cats were happy to share the wealth tonight.
- The big negative from this came was discipline, especially on defense. Northwestern committed 29 fouls, led by Jared Jones and Robbie Beran with 5 each. Quincy missed 11 free throws, which makes the overall defense performance appear acceptable, but 29 fouls will never beat a Big Ten team. I am not inclined to worry too much - many of the fouls came from new players, and discipline tends to be something that develops over the course of the season. However, you can be sure that Coach Collins will be talking about this in practice next week.
- Tino Malnati scored, and it was the most lively that Welsh-Ryan got all night.
Overall, Northwestern did not look like a bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten team. Their real journey begins at Welsh-Ryan against Merrimack next Friday at 7 p.m.