2015-2016 ITH Season Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

  • 09/16/2015 10:50 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Vic Law arrived on campus last season as arguably Northwestern’s best-ever recruit. Coupled with a new scoreboard in Welsh-Ryan Arena, a new era appeared to be emerging in Chris Collins’ second year in Evanston.

Yet, the on-court narrative stayed the same for the Wildcats. No trip to the NCAA Tournament. A finish in the bottom half of the league (10th, 15-17) with only one more win than Collins’ first season. Things got so bad in league play that the Wildcats dropped 10 straight in a little over a month’s span after winning their Big Ten opener against Rutgers.

But credit Collins. He never lost his team. They finished Big Ten play 5-2, including a win over the Hoosiers in Evanston. Indiana got revenge in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and ended Northwestern’s season.

Heading into the 2015-2016 campaign, Northwestern has an interesting collection of talent that has a shot at eclipsing the .500 mark and maybe even making its first-ever trip to the Big Dance.

Guard Tre Demps and center Alex Olah return for their senior seasons and provide a veteran presence for a team that figures to give heavy minutes to underclassmen. Demps led the team in scoring (12.5 ppg) last season and was third in possessions used (23 percent). Olah provides a shot-blocking presence in the middle. His block percentage of 7.4 was fifth best in conference play. The Romania native was also a focal point on offense, using the team’s most possessions (24.1 percent) and sporting the team’s best free throw rate (45.7).

Olah uses the line to his advantage. After shooting just 58.3 percent as a freshman, he’s improved and made a strong 74.8 percent of freebies a season ago.

Law had a respectable freshman campaign (7 ppg) and used the fourth most possessions on the team. But fellow freshman and New Castle native Bryant McIntosh ended up with the better season. In fact, McIntosh had a good enough year to earn a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team.

He solidifies the point guard position for the Wildcats and was the team’s third leading scorer (11.4 ppg) behind Demps and Olah. His assist rate of 32.6 was second only to Shannon Scott in the Big Ten and was 53rd best in the county. McIntosh was also the team’s best 3-point shooter (36.4 percent) and finished third in the conference in free throw percentage (85.3).

One clear area of improvement for both Law and McIntosh as sophomores? Cut down on turnovers. Each had a turnover percentage of 20.5 last season.

Like Law and McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey was another freshman that started for the Wildcats last season and showed some promise on the wing. Juniors Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn figure to provide depth at the forward spots.

However, freshman Aaaron Falzon, a top-100 recruit from Massachusetts, appears primed to knock them down the depth chart at the power forward position. Virginia Tech transfer and 24-year-old Joey van Zegeren, who is 6-foot-10, also figures to be in the frontcourt rotation. Freshman combo guard Jordan Ash is likely to back up Demps and McIntosh in the backcourt.

Bottom Line: Due to the talent in the top half of the league, Northwestern has ample opportunity to rack up quality wins in Big Ten play to provide the committee evidence its finally worthy of a trip to the NCAA Tournament. If the trio of Law, McIntosh and Lindsey can make a nice leap in their sophomore seasons to go along with seniors Demps and Olah and the additions of Falzon and Zegeren, Northwestern has a shot at being a tough out in conference play. But it’s a bit early to be bullish on the Wildcats making their first-ever tournament appearance.

Quotable: “Falzon brings us a dimension that we really haven’t had, especially offensively … at 6-foot-8, his ability to stretch the floor. He’s as good a shooter coming into college as there is in the country. Having a guy like that out there all the time makes the defense on high alert. It allows you to really open up things for other guys.” – Collins on Falzon’s abilities to the Chicago Tribune in July

Previously: Rutgers, Penn State

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  • IMSKRONG

    It seems like Demps and Olah have been killing us for 15 years. They have a good coach and are gaining a some talent and found something good in McIntosh.

    On a side note… anyone see Michigans new uniforms? That’s what Adidas will get you lol.

  • Hoosier Hall

    This could be the year for them to finally make the tournament. I think they are definitely better than Rutgers, Penn St, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois.If they can edge out Iowa or whoever else is right there on the bubble… 19 wins and a top 7 finish in the conference would get them in as long as they have a couple good wins. I’m rooting for them, I just hope we aren’t one of those “good wins”.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    The uniforms with the tire treads below the waist? Gross. Maybe they are preparing to get “run over” in the B1G this year! lol

  • IMSKRONG

    Yes. They’re awful. Does it say anything? Or just tire treads?

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    I didn’t see any text in the pictures I saw, but they do scream U-G-L-Y!

  • IMSKRONG

    That they do. I wish IU would get some uniforms but not those.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    Another side note, I think you’re profile pic has the same shoes as Bryant McIntosh (pictured above). Wait…Are YOU Bryant McIntosh?!?!?!? You are, aren’t you?! I freaking knew it! Go back to Northwestern! We don’t like your kind around here! lol

  • marcusgresham

    Do wolverines have a tendency to get hit like possums & raccoons? That’s the only viable explanation I can conjure for those.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    What the hell are you talking about? IU will blow Northwetern out of Assembly Hall this year. NW won’t even get a whiff at an NCAA bid. Demps and Olah,,,what a joke.

  • AZHoosier

    Just a side point – Bryant McIntosh lead Greensburg HS to 2 straight Indiana 3A championships his junior/senior year. I’m not sure about his previous life, but continuing to mention New Castle in his resume’ and not mention Greensburg in the discussion is a slight to a great southern Indiana small town school. I’m a Hoosier backer and Greensburg alumnus as well.

  • TomJameson

    Don’t know about the NCAA bid, but since IU plays Northwestern only once, at Assembly hall, I’m fairly certain there won’t be an upset there. That said … NEVER look past any team in the B1G on any given night. LOL

  • TomJameson

    They play IU once … at AH. Probably a loss for them.

  • IMSKRONG

    And that’s why we lost to them 2 years ago and only won by 3 last year. To think that Bryant won’t have trouble against Olah is silly. And Demps can score like crazy.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Tom, IU would soundly beat Northwestern in Evanston also. No doubt about it. Chances are that they will play in the Big Ten tournament this year anyway.

  • IMSKRONG

    Lol. No. But he apparently has a good taste in amshoes:) NW is a very good school with smart kids

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Keep drinking those tequila shots.

  • IMSKRONG

    I don’t think I’m the one drinking.

  • IMSKRONG

    Playing at AH isn’t a four sure win anymore.

  • Hoosier Hall

    Dude, chill out. They actually beat us last year… and the year before that. Not sure why you are so emphatic. Yes, we should beat the tar out of them but things happen sometimes.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    Exactly the kind of thing I’d expect McIntosh to say. Hey, ya know, “if the shoe fits…” 😀

  • TomJameson

    I agree man, I’m just saying that if you’re marking wins down on your calendar, you should always use pencil, not ink. LOL

    I think once IU gets going, they may be very tough to beat, the B1G road is a very rocky road! Great, now I want some ice-cream. LOL

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Dude? Good one. I haven’t been called that in 15yrs! I like it!