When Northwestern thrashed Minnesota, 81-61 on Saturday, it marked their 15th win of the season, equaling their win total from all of last season (15-17). The Cats’ 15 wins in the first 20 is the most since 2016-17 (16 wins, by the first and only NCAA Tournament team).
Meanwhile their 6-3 Big Ten record is also their best since 2016-17 (7-2). Three of the four best 20 game starts in school history have come during the Chris Collins era: 2022-23 (15-5), 2016-17 (16-4), 2015-16 (15-5) and 1945-46 (15-5).
We’re minutes from tip-off in Iowa City, with the month of January hours away from conclusion, and the Wildcats are in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten.
And they’re even receiving votes in the AP Top 25 (for the second time this season. While March is still a ways off, one can’t help but analogize the current Wildcats team to the only one to have ever reached March Madness.
“There’s 11 more games left in the league,” Coach Collins responded to a question about comparing the current side to his most famed one.
“A lot of that is really premature. We’ve done a really good job through 9 games, with 6 wins… not sure a lot of you guys would have predicted that, maybe I wouldn’t have either (smiling), but it’s a testament to how well our guys have played.”
Collins, and assistant coach Bryant McIntosh are the only connections between the current team and the 2016-17 team. McIntosh was the point guard and floor general for that squad.
Northwestern is now in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, just as we all expected at the start of the season. ? pic.twitter.com/KP9rmjXCrU
— Chris Yates (@CPY87) January 29, 2023
“Every team is different,” Collins continued.
“And that team is special, they got off to a great, I think we started off 7-2, and won six in a row and they will always be remembered for what they did here but I think it’s much too early to start talking about March, but the thing that’s great though is if you do want to play in March, you have to win in November, December, January.
“And we’ve now set ourselves up to be in a position where February is really going to matter, and we’ve got to stay the course.”
Both Northwestern teams in this analogy are guard-focused and guard-centric.
Collins described his current backcourt as “two elite guards” that are “going to be there night in and night out.”
Current NU’s top two scorers, the pair that he’s referring to, are Chase Audige and Boo Buie. They are the top two players on this squad, with another guard, third-leading scorer Ty Berry emerging as a bona fide third piece.
The ’16-’17 Cats were led by McIntosh, one of the co-captains, and off-the-ball guard/wing Scottie Lindsey, a third team all-Big Ten pick.
Redshirt sophomore and forward Vic Law was the third main player, making all Big Ten defensive team and grooming himself to later become an alpha dog.
The last time that Northwestern was ranked in the AP Top 25 was December 28, 2020, where NU was ranked No. 19. If they win tonight, and then again on Thursday, at home against Michigan, they should be back in the polls.
And they’re defying expectations, proving the doubters wrong.
“A lot of the people saying the nice things are the same people who picked us last,” Collins added.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.
Leave a Reply