Is This Finally the Year for Northwestern?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 4th, 2015

It’s legendary throughout the North Side of Chicago for its pure length of futility. It’s one of the longest streaks in sports, and dogged followers have hoped for decades that the drought would soon be over. Now, here in 2015, it appears that better days are finally coming. For the fans that have stuck around, the imminent snap of the curse will only be sweeter for their having endured decades of losing. And while the Chicago Cubs may soon end their 107-year World Series championship drought, we are not talking about the boys from Wrigley Field here. Rather, Northwestern hoops and its string of 77 seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance (the Wildcats are the only original Division I school in a power conference that has never made the field) could very well come to an end this season. They’ve been close before and there are some extremely positive signs appearing in Evanston as we approach tipoff. Here are three reasons why Northwestern — yes, those Wildcats — could indeed go dancing this March.

Tre Demps and fellow senior Alex Olah will be team leaders for Northwestern(Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps will be a key leader for Northwestern (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Experienced Leadership: Two seniors who have been in Evanston through thick and thin over the last three seasons have steadily improved throughout their careers. Alex Olah and Tre Demps were both honorable mention all-B1G selections last season and are without question two of the league’s top returnees. Olah in particular has made leaps and bounds since his freshman season, improving his scoring from 6.1 PPG as a freshman to 11.7 PPG as a junior. His offensive rating went from 88.8 to 106.2 in the same period despite the fact that he is also using more possessions (21.8 to 24.1 percent). Notwithstanding the math, the eye test confirms that Olah has come a long way and it’s tough to find any player in the Big Ten who has improved as much over the same timeframe as he has. Demps has also become a more complete player, having evolved from a modest scoring option off the bench into a high-usage, heavy minutes offensive leader. He’s increased his assists every season and has also seen a spike in both his scoring (from 7.6 PPG as a freshman to 12.5 PPG last season), and offensive rating (94.3 to 102.6). Quality backups for Olah and Demps are also in place this season, with Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren prepared to spell the former and freshman combo guard Jordan Ash ready to supply good minutes for the latter. In general, Chris Collins has more talented depth at his disposal than he’s ever had in Evanston.
  • Sophomore Improvements: Bryant McIntosh played above expectations at the beginning of last season while Vic Law came on strong toward the tail end of the year. Both should be improved this time around, with fellow sophomore Scottie Lindsey giving the ‘Cats another perimeter option. McIntosh finished fifth in the league in assists as a freshman, averaged double figures in scoring, and shot a respectable 36.4 percent from deep. Law averaged 9.9 PPG and 5.1 RPG on the year and found his outside shooting stroke late, shooting a scorching 58.3 from behind the arc in his last seven games (the Wildcats won four of those contests). With the myriad injuries suffered by Jershon Cobb last season, Lindsey probably played more than expected as a freshman, starting 10 games. He scored in double figures five times and shot a respectable 35.4 percent from three-point range. The likely improvement of this trio of sophomores, coupled with the debuts of Ash and fellow freshman shooter Aaron Falzon, mean that Northwestern’s top eight or nine players in the rotation look very capable.
  • A Forgiving Schedule: If the Wildcats play up to their capabilities early, there’s no reason that this squad cannot start the year at 12-1. The negative here is that a late November game against North Carolina is likely to offer the only chance for Northwestern to pick up a resume-boosting win (and good luck against the Heels), but there will be plenty of meat in the Big Ten to pick up some marquee wins down the line. The Wildcats play Maryland twice and have road contests at Indiana, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan. If they can gain some early confidence and ultimately finish around .500 in league play, they should be capable of ending at least one of the Windy City’s infamous sporting dry spells.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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