By Patrick Vint on December 29, 2020 at 3:06 pm
Grabbing at it like taking a rook
© Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports


TIME 8:00 pm CT
WHERE Carver Hawkeye Arena
TV Fox Sports 1
RADIO Learfield Affiliates
STREAM Fox Sports Live
LINE Iowa -11
KENPOM Iowa -11
7-2 RECORD 6-1
1-1 CONF. 3-0
120.8 (2nd) OFF. EFF. 108.4 (56th)
96.4 (91st) DEF. EFF. 93.1 (46th)
15.0 POSS. 14.9
55.7 (36th) eFG% 57.5 (16th)

Welcome to 2020: A time when Northwestern football wins the Big Ten West and Northwestern basketball leads the Big Ten overall.

You read that right: the Northwestern Wildcats, until recently the only power-conference team to have never made the NCAA Tournament, leads the Big Ten two weeks into the season on the back of a perfect 3-0 record.  That's due to wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State.  The world has turned and left me here.

How have they done it?  By shooting the lights out, mostly.  The Cats are shooting 41 percent from three as a team.  Their collective 55 percent from inside the arc isn't too bad, either.  Throw in a top 20 turnover rate (just 15 percent of possessions) and top 10 block rate (just 1 in 20 shot attempts is getting blocked), and you have the recipe for a brutally efficient offense, even if you don't rebound (which is good, becuase Northwestern doesn't rebound, at least on the offensive glass).

The amazing thing is that Northwestern's insane three-point rate might actually be underselling their effectiveness: Their highest-volume three-point shooter, shooting guard Chase Audige (6'4", 200, 12.9/4.3) is just 8/33 on the year, a mere 24 percent rate.  It's just that everyone else (save for the centers) is in full-on NBA Jam fire mode:

  • Ty Berry: 9/21, 43%
  • Robbie Beran: 6/13, 46%
  • Boo Buie: 14/26, 54%
  • Miller Kopp: 13/22, 59%

It's more bombers than the Air Force, all over the roster.  Kopp (6'7", 215, 15.1/2.6) leads the team in scoring, but six guys average more than 8 points per game and nine players are getting more than 17 minutes per game.  Elaborate Howard Stern joke Boo Buie (6'2", 180, 14.4/2.7/5.3 assists) does a bit of everything at the point.  The aforementioned Audige gets a ton of looks and time with the ball for being the least-efficient player on the team.  Junior center Pete Nance (6'10", 225, 10.6/6.9) provides an inside presence, even if it doesn't come with much for rim protection (0.7 bpg).  And Robbie Beran (6'9", 215, 6.7/3.4) proves that even the recruiting Gods can have a sense of humor.  Even little-used backup guard Ryan Greer (6'2", 190, 2.6/2.0) is 3/4 from three so far.  

What do we make of this?  After all, it's not as if Northwestern played a murderer's row in the non-conference season: The Cats lost to Pitt, beat two teams ranked below 300 in the Kenpom rankings, and blew out something called Quincy.  As it stands right now, Kenpom has them losing their next FIFTEEN GAMES.  That Michigan State win is certainly discounted, now that Sparty is in full-on meltdown.  Indiana followed up its loss to Northwestern by dropping a game at Illinois.  And Ohio State had already lost to an iffy Purdue squad before Chicago's Big Ten Team took their souls this weekend.  But, at some point, you've got to stop finding excuses and start believing what's in front of you.  And what's in front of Iowa Tuesday night is a white-hot offensive team that could absolutely walk into Carver Hawkeye and hand Iowa yet another loss.

They don't really have an answer for Garza; Nance is fine, but he doesn't really have the size or athleticism to hang.  On the other hand, most of Garza's shots are worth two, most of Northwestern's are worth three, and Iowa makes terrible shooters look good on the perimeter.  Don't let that point spread fool you: This is a dangerous game.

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