Northwestern basketball trying to build from the bottom up
It took Northwestern a long, long time to get to where it always wanted to go.
In 2017, the Wildcats snapped a 78-year drought and made it to the NCAA Tournament. With a roster loaded with talent and the recruiting pipeline turned to wide open, it was supposed to be the first of many March Madness appearances.
NU quickly fell back on hard times.
After winning a school-record 24 games in 2016-17 and advancing to the second-round game in the NCAA tourney, the Wildcats followed up with a 15-17 record the next season.
Last year, Northwestern was 13-19 and its 4-16 showing in the Big Ten landed the Wildcats in last place.
"Things are on the up and up in my opinion, even though the last two years from a win-loss perspective is not where we wanted to be," coach Chris Collins said Wednesday at the Big Ten men's basketball media day in Rosemont. "But you move forward, and we're excited to see what we can do with this group."
For as rough as last season was, NU could be even worse this year.
Not only were the departed Vic Law and Derek Pardon the team's top two scorers, they were also the top two rebounders and unquestioned leaders.
"We're taking more of a day-by-day approach," said sophomore guard Anthony Gaines, who averaged 6.9 points per game as a freshman. "It's a new team and we have a lot of young guys, mainly sophomores and freshmen. Obviously, a lot of people don't expect us to be great this year. We know that, so we're going to play with a chip on our shoulder and go out and compete."
Players to watch are Gaines, forwards Pete Nance, Miller Kopp and AJ Turner and guard Boo Buie.
Pat Spencer, a lacrosse star at Loyola-Maryland who is back playing basketball as a graduate transfer, is the most interesting story.
"As I look in my locker room now, it's a whole new group," Collins said. "For me, that's very exciting. We have eight freshman and sophomores, and it reminds me a lot of kind of what we were trying to build when that (Bryant) McIntosh-Law-Pardon-(Scottie) Lindsey group kind of started their journeys.
"I feel good about our young talent. I feel like we're on the right track toward our future. But obviously, I understand from afar where expectations can be because you look on paper and there are a lot of unknowns when you look at our roster."