You may be reading this headline and thinking, “Huh? Basketball in April?”
To be honest, I don’t blame you. With that being said, the state of Northwestern men’s basketball is largely a question mark heading into the 2021-22 season. With Miller Kopp announcing his transfer to Indiana and Anthony Gaines his move to Siena, as well as three new recruits — Julian Roper, Casey Simmons and Brooks Barnhizer — and grad transfer Elyjah Williams joining the fray, it’s time to preview some potential lineups the Wildcats may utilize throughout the 2021-22 year.
To begin, let’s examine who we know will be starting for the ‘Cats next year.
Barring any injuries, Pete Nance will likely be a staple of Northwestern men’s basketball for his senior year in Evanston. The 6-foor-10 stretch five is the only player still on the Wildcats’ roster who started all 23 games last season (Kopp being the other), and was a key contributor for the ‘Cats both offensively and defensively. He’s not always going to post eye-popping numbers, but Nance will likely be looked at as a leader of this team with Kopp gone.
Much like Nance, Audige was a crucial part of Northwestern men’s basketball last season. Even with his inconsistencies, the William & Mary transfer still managed to lead the Wildcats in scoring, averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting 45% from two-point range. Audige started 22 of 23 games last season and all signs point to him doing that again this upcoming year.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when Buie gets hot, he’s very difficult for opponents to stop. His outbursts against Michigan State the past two seasons are a great example of this.
But sometimes he just can’t buy a bucket. His inconsistencies are certainly something he’ll need to improve upon. Regardless, he’s still all but a guaranteed starter next season.
For one, he started 18 of 23 games in 2021, spending a stretch of contests where he came off the bench due to his scoring struggles, but he was quickly inserted back into the starting lineup after a few games.
Another thing to note, according to KenPom, is that Buie was featured in nine of Northwestern’s 10 most frequent lineups in the last five games of the season. That’s the most for any current player on Northwestern’s roster. The only lineup out of the 10 that he was not featured saw Ryan Greer, Ty Berry, Audige, Gaines and Ryan Young on the floor. Point is, Buie was used a lot. Expect him to be a starter in 2022.
Most Likely: Boo Buie, Chase Audige, Robbie Beran, Pete Nance, Ryan Young
This lineup is what I believe to be the most likely starting squad for Northwestern men’s basketball next season. Beran is someone who started 17 of 23 total games last year, and while Young started in just five, someone needs to fill the gap left by Kopp. I expect that to be the guy with a good amount of experience.
In this scenario, Nance slides to the four spot with Young taking over at the center position. Nance was used quite a bit as a stretch five last season with Beran playing at the four, and with Young joining their unit, both Nance and Beran would have to slide up one positional spot.
Of note, this lineup would offer the Wildcats a good amount of height. The average height of this starting five would come about to about 79 inches, or 6-foot-7, mainly due to playing the 6-foot-9 Beran at the three. This lineup could create a good amount of opportunities on the perimeter as well, as long as Buie and Audige can figure out who will be handling the ball.
Also Possible: Boo Buie, Chase Audige, Elyjah Williams, Robbie Beran, Pete Nance
This lineup would be identical to the starting five we saw last season, with the only change being Williams in for the departured Kopp.
Williams is an interesting player, to say the least. The Farleigh Dickinson transfer averaged nearly 14 points and eight rebounds last season while shooting nearly 56% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. However, his three-point percentage comes with a small sample size, as he averaged just one made long ball per game.
Physically, Williams is the same height as Kopp and weighs just five more pounds. Despite the similar characteristics, Williams likes to play around the rim more, which could make for some interesting play designs. With three players standing above 6-foot-7 in this lineup, this could be pick & pop central for guys like Nance & Beran while Williams plays more down low.
Not likely, but would be fun: Boo Buie, Chase Audige, Brooks Barnhizer, Robbie Beran, Pete Nance
It’s not terribly uncommon to see a freshman start for Northwestern men’s basketball. In fact, it has happened quite a bit over the past couple of years. Kopp started his freshman year. Buie did as well. While this year’s team has a bit more experience and depth than years prior, it could happen once again.
So, which of the three recruits could it be? Julian Roper is a point guard who will probably sit behind Buie and Ty Berry for the year. Casey Simmons is intriguing and is the highest ranked of the three, but is listed as a shooting guard, and for convenience, that means he’ll be coming off the bench behind Audige.
That leaves Brooks Barnhizer. The Indiana-native stands in at just 6-foor-5, yet could be the small ball three the ‘Cats are looking for given his length. Additionally, he’s a stat sheet stuffer. As of Jan. 23, Barnhizer was averaging 35.0 points per game (No. 1 in the state of Indiana), 11.2 rebounds per game and 6.9 assists per game. Simply put, the dude is a bucket.
I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see Barnhizer start. I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll see any of the three incoming recruits start, at least to begin the year. But out of the three, Barnhizer is the most likely to reach the starting five in his first year. He’s a great scorer, can pass the ball, and while his height may be of concern, if Northwestern were to take a small ball approach, he could provide the spacing needed to fill Kopp’s absence.
Look, it’s early in the offseason. Baylor smoked Gonzaga just 18 days ago! These lineups weren’t meant to be entirely serious, especially with the transfer portal still open. Additionally, I likely missed a couple possible scenarios for a starting lineup, so feel free to sound off in the comments.