Northwestern Basketball is for Real and Soon to be Nationally Ranked

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Northwestern basketball is off their first 3-0 start in the Big Ten since 1967-68, when they finished fourth in league. Yes, the last time the Wildcats started league play this fast, it was a half-century ago. Their three league wins this season matches their total from all of last term, when they went 3-17 in conference play.

This campaign, Northwestern is 6-1 with the only loss thus far coming to Pitt, and that was a game where they never trailed until the final 5.6 seconds. Receiving a few votes in the polls already this week, when the next set of rankings are released, you’ll find Northwestern basketball in the Top 25.

 

This afternoon they knocked off #23 Ohio State, which led 64-57 with 7 minutes left to play. The Buckeyes fall to 7-2 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s other two league wins were impressive as well.

They just won at Indiana, always a tough place to play, and at home versus then #4 Michigan State, which marked the first win over a top five team since 1979. That was also a Michigan State side, one led by Magic Johnson and the national champions that year.

So what’s the been the difference this season? Well, last year, Northwestern lost a lot of games where they had leads, but just couldn’t close. Now they now how to kill games off and finish. It’s a remarkable turnaround, and it happened, almost overnight.

chris collins northwestern

We asked Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins about what’s made the difference this season- is it the team getting mentally tougher, maturing mentally? And getting to that point because now they have experience?

“I think you answered your own question,” Collins responded.

“I think you hit the nail on the head. They’re not shaking (in late, game on the line situations), they’re not tight, they’re not nervous. They want to get out there, they like those situations.”

It’s really not about having a Northwestern basketball roster that is drastically different from last season. It’s a lot of the same core, nucleus, but now they have grown up.

“We are stronger, better than we were last year, the guys have more belief in themselves,” Collins added. Our guys are more confident.

“Last year they were a bunch of freshmen who didn’t know how to win in the Big Ten, and we threw them into the fire, we decided to go young.”

He also said that he was “super proud of our guys.”

In leading scorer Boo Buie, the Cats have a floor general and a developing star.

“I really like he’s how maturing as a young point guard in this league, I like how his game has matured,” said Collins of Buie.

Said Buie, who knocks down half of his three-pointers, 45% of his field goals and 83% of his free throws: “We have a a chance to be really good because we have a lot of guys who can go. Last year we kinda lacked leadership because we were all young and didn’t know what it takes to win (yet).

“I think we’re just a really hungry group from last year, and it’ll feel good to be ranked, it will be an honor, but we’re just looking for wins.”

Northwestern basketball has a lot of balance, quality and depth. Five guys average more than 9 points per game and while Buie hit the big, clutch shot today, Miller Kopp, the team’s second leading scorer, led the way with 23 on Saturday.

“On one night it can be anybody, it gives us so much versaitluty, if somebody’s off, somebody else can be on,” said Kopp.

Up next is maybe their toughest test of the season. They’ll be at #4 Iowa, where they’ll face Player of the Year Luka Garza and company.

“You’re not going to shut a guy like that out, he’s gonna get 20 plus,” said Collins of Garza.

“They’re loaded, they have Garza and so much more.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of  “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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