📵Northwestern's a No. 2 seed?

And, a football player literally BLAMES HIS PHONE.

A Big Ten title is on the line. A freaking Big Ten title.

If the Wildcats beat Illinois in Evanston tomorrow afternoon (you can buy tickets here and watch on BTN), they’re guaranteed a least a tie with powerhouse Maryland atop the Big Ten regular season standings.

And, this week, spring football is back. And a key player is already 📵blaming his phone.

Let’s blame some things.

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📵Blame nothing, literally nothing

Everything is perfect.

The only controversy was a Chicago Tribune article about the football team supporting the women’s squad.

Otherwise, things a fantastic.

As mentioned above, Veronica Burton, Lindsey Pulliam, and co. can grab a Big Ten championship tomorrow with a win over struggling Illinois.

Here are some things that have happened to this team in the past week:

  • Sat., Feb. 22: A win at Wisconsin, in which the team stretched a five-point lead with 9:23 left in the game into a 21-point lead just about three minutes later.

  • Mon., Feb. 24: ESPN names Lindsey Pulliam its national player of the week. In an upset-filled week in college hoops, Graham Hays wrote:

“Pulliam made sure Northwestern wasn't in a similar spotlight this week. And the Wildcats would like to think there will be plenty of time for us to talk about them in March.”

  • Wed., Feb. 26: A win at Ohio State, in which a two-point Wildcat lead with 1:41 left in the third quarter turned into a 13-point lead just 11 seconds into the fourth period.

So, to recap: it was a pretty damn good week.

📵Blame a hunger for football

Spring is in the air, at least in a football sense.

Northwestern started spring practice on Tuesday. And, all eyes are on the offense.

With Mick McCall gone, Mike Bajakian is stepping in. And he’s already made a courageous change:

Shoutout to Dan Vitale, Drake Dunsmore, and all the other superbacks who had opposing fans questioning what the hell Northwestern was up to. (They were just tight ends all along.)

But, as Rodger Sherman pointed out on Twitter, Bob Heffner is still listed as the “superbacks” coach. So, who really knows?

Anyways, the more impactful decision Bajakian will make is at quarterback. Five of the seven quarterbacks on the roster this spring played a snap last season. Aidan Smith led the group with 171 passing attempts last season, followed by Hunter Johnson’s 108, Andrew Marty’s 22, T.J. Green’s 10, and Jason Whitaker’s 0. Whitaker did run twice for three yards.

But from Bajakian’s comments this week via the Daily Northwestern, it sounds like Whitaker is not being considered for the starting role. It’s a four-man race.

Never mind, actually. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, it’s actually a three-man race.

Smith, according to Greenstein’s reporting, is not in the picture for the starting job, despite the fact that he started six games last season. (And, Greenstein has a bit in there about what he calls a “wild card” but you’re going to have to read the article, hit the Tribune’s paywall, and subscribe to read his work because local journalism in Chicago matters a helluva lot.)

Multiple outlets reported that Marty was taking the first team snaps and that Green is not ready to be playing football due to an injury he suffered in last season’s opening game at Stanford.

As for Johnson, well, Matt Fortuna of The Athletic reported that his big change has been getting away from technology (also known as the 📵Blame the Phones lifestyle, but I digress).

📵Blame Dakich

Last night, I was flipping between the Northwestern men’s team’s loss to Illinois (which I’m not writing about) and the Wisconsin-Michigan game on ESPN. I found myself listening to Dan Dakich on the call, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Here’s why:

Joey Mulinaro is killing it with his impressions. And watching this on loop is way more enjoyable than the product Chris Collins has been putting on the court this season.

As your favorite “blogger boy,” I politely ask you to “kiss my backside.” (Watch the video if you’re like, what the hell is Josh talking about?)

📵Blame another celebrity-NU crossover

That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.

And remember, if you want to be one my bag people, it’s here.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Take care,
Josh Rosenblat

📵Can Northwestern win another game?

And, it's bracketology szn.

Hello, hello.

February is almost over, meaning March (!) is nearly here. And it’ll be a March in which we’ll be watching meaningful Northwestern basketball again. Oh, how I’ve missed you.

As the women’s team battles for a Big Ten title, they’re also jockeying for seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

But for the men, there’s way less intrigue. The only question remaining this season: will they get a second Big Ten win?

Let’s blame some things.

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📵Blame seeding

The machine that is the Northwestern women’s basketball program kept buzzing this week. Coming off a four-point win over Nebraska, the Wildcats blitzed Rutgers midweek, winning 82-65 in Evanston.

At the time of writing, the Wildcats are taking the floor against Wisconsin as they sit a half game out of first place in the Big Ten.

According to a leading bracketologist, Northwestern’s potential NCAA Tournament seed doesn’t have a wide range. In an interview with Inside NU, Russell Steinberg of High Post Hoops saw Northwestern’s floor as a five seed, and that’s if the rest of the season goes about as badly as possible. As for a ceiling, he has Northwestern getting up to a No. 3 seed.

Steinberg currently has Northwestern as the No. 3 seed in the Greenville region.

One of the really cool things about the women’s tournament is that if Northwestern is a No. 4 seed or higher, the program gets to host the opening two rounds in Evanston.

And it’s looking like that’ll happen, giving everyone a chance to see meaningful Northwestern basketball in March.

📵Blame the remaining schedule

As of writing, the Northwestern’s men’s basketball team is 6-19 and 1-14 in the Big Ten.

Finishing with just one win would put Chris Collins’ team in rare air. The last time the Wildcats went through Big Ten play with just a single win was 2007-08.

So, with five games left, where’s the most likely place for Northwestern to find a second win?

1. At Nebraska, Sun., Mar. 1

The Wildcats’ lone win in Big Ten play was a 62-57 victory over the Cornhuskers in January. Since then, Northwestern has lost 10 in a row. And, from Fred Hoiberg’s standpoint, that loss in Evanston kicked off an 11-game winless streak for Nebraska.

There’s a good chance that this matchup will feature two teams riding a combined 25-game losing streak.

Why Northwestern can win: I think Northwestern is just a flat-out better team. That win over Nebraska earlier in the season was without Boo Buie. But the Huskers have been able to take down both Purdue and Iowa in Lincoln. And Northwestern hasn’t won a road game in Big Ten play.

2. vs. Minnesota, Sun., Feb. 23

The Gophers are have lost six of eight. And they’ve been particularly bad on the road. Minnesota isn’t a good shooting team, but on the road their shooting efficiency dips to second-worst in the Big Ten in conference games, according to BartTorvik.com. On the other hand, Northwestern is third-worst in the conference in shooting efficiency in home games.

Why Northwestern can win: In my opinion, Minnesota is the worst non-Nebraska-or-Northwestern team in the conference.

3. vs. Illinois, Thurs., Feb. 27

The last five games between these two schools have all finished within five points either way, including a four-point win for the Illini in Champaign last month. Northwestern has a shot in this one, but not a good one.

Why Northwestern can win: Robbie Beran isn’t going to go off for 17 points again. But having Buie as another ball-handler could help put some pressure on Illinois’ guards.

4. At Wisconsin, Wed., Mar. 4

Wisconsin has been the best per-possession offensive team at home in conference play. The Badgers’ only home loss this season was a 71-70 loss to Illinois in early January.

Why Northwestern can win: Northwestern has stolen two of their last three games at the Kohl Center in Madison.

5. vs. Penn State, Sat., Mar. 7

Penn State … they’re good! Northwestern … they’re not! There’s a chance the Nittany Lions will be playing for a share of the Big Ten regular season title in two weeks. And I’m not too confident Northwestern will be able to do much to stop them.

Why Northwestern can win: There weren’t many positives for Northwestern during their 16-point loss at Penn State a week ago. The only chance the Wildcats have is to keep Ryan Young out of foul trouble. He was able to play just 21 minutes in that previous game.

That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.

And remember, if you want to be one my bag people, it’s here.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Take care,
Josh Rosenblat

📵At Northwestern, polar opposites exist simultaneously

Plus, a little football nugget for you.

After a week when we got to be blissfully ignorant of the Northwestern men’s basketball team and this increasingly hard-to-write newsletter, we’re back.

And nothing has changed.

The men’s team crapped the bed again in a road loss at Rutgers before getting blown out at home by Michigan.

All the while, the women’s team returned from their week off to continue a march towards a potential Big Ten title.

And, later in the newsletter, I’ll throw a little football in there for you as a treat (if you can call it that).

Hey, at least we got this blessed image:

Let’s blame some things.

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📵Blame the desire for something positive

Each time I watch the Northwestern men’s team play, I search, hopelessly, for something positive on to which I can latch.

For most of the season, it’s been Miller Kopp. More shots for one of the Big Ten’s best shooters! I’m keeping my real estate on Kopp Island, but it may or may not be listed on Airbnb now.

Then there were the few weeks in December when Boo Buie emerged to get me all jazzed up. Because Chris Collins’ offensive sets are, well, um, not the most innovative nor effective, Northwestern will need a shot-creating guard to keep the team’s head above water as long as Collins is calling the shots. For now, at least, Buie is too inefficient to make a consistent positive impact. And while that’s normal for a freshman guard, it doesn’t make me feel great right now.

So, the hunt continues.

Benching Pete Nance was a good move. But I feel like Robbie Beran has been playing worse without Nance on the floor as much, which also stinks.

What can we have to look at over the next few weeks?

Despite how Beran has kind of faded over the past couple games without Nance to take on the more physical opposing wing threat on the defensive end, the lineup of Pat Spencer, Buie, Kopp, Beran and Ryan Young has been really the only main lineup of consequence that’s been a net positive for the Wildcats.

That group, according to NatStat, has been a net positive on a per possession basis. Maybe with more time it can grow into something?

I mean, I find it wild that Collins has just discovered that you can have two ball-handlers on the court at the same time. He’s doing it pretty often now, with two of Spencer, Buie, and Ryan Greer sharing the court for more minutes over the past couple games than they have all season.

When you have so little shot creation from your highest volume shooter (Kopp), and the offense you run doesn’t do much to manufacture open looks without relying on a defensive breakdown, having guys that can dribble can go an awful long way.

In short, dribbling. I’m excited for more dribbling. Ugh.

📵Blame nothing

Nine wins in 10 games has the Northwestern women’s team positioned as the polar opposite of its male counterparts.

They’re near the top of the Big Ten.

The Wildcats had to battle against Michigan last night, but good thing they have Veronica Burton, who put them ahead for good late in the game for a 66-60 win.

With Lindsey Pulliam having an off night, Burton (who I think is more indispensable than Pulliam), controlled the game masterfully.

Joe McKeown relies on his starters a lot. That group (Pulliam, Burton, Sydney Wood, Abi Scheid, and Abbie Wolf) has played way more than any other other five-woman grouping on the roster. And they’ve been damn good. It’s been one of the better lineups in the country this season.

That group is outscoring its opponents by about 30 points per 100 possessions, according to NatStats. That’s just bonkers.

Northwestern closes Big Ten play with five games in which they should be the favored team. The Wildcats sit a half game back of Maryland right now, who play three of their final four games on the road.

📵Blame returning “production”

Remember those stats I was quoting during football season to showcase Northwestern’s per-down weighted efficiency and all that nonsense. Well, the 2020 projections of SP+ are now out and, woo boy, it’s pretty entertaining.

OK, so Bama’s back atop the rankings, with Ohio State close behind.

But where’s Northwestern?

In the context of the country, ESPN’s Bill Connelly has Northwestern ranked No. 50. Not bad! The defense is rated No. 17. The offense? 110th.

Looking at the Big Ten, Northwestern is the 11th-best team, rated higher than the vaunted trio of Illinois, Maryland, and Rutgers.

In the Big Ten West, Northwestern sits next-to-last. The ratings see the division in two tiers. There’s the top tier with Wisconsin (9), Minnesota (20), Nebraska (25), and Iowa (29). And there’s the bottom tier of Purdue (46), Northwestern (50), and Illinois (61).

You might think that No. 50 is pretty high for Northwestern. And, frankly, I agree with you, especially after ending last year ranked 91st based on the metric.

The reason: returning “production.”

One of the “major factors” in the ratings, this metric is a weighted calculation of how much of a previous season’s productive players are returning. And, guess what?

Northwestern projects to have the most “production” returning in the country. The metric indicates 88% of Northwestern’s offensive production is back for another action-packed season in Evanston in 2020. (On defense, it’s 80%.)

But, as we all saw during a season that feels like a lifetime ago, that might not be such a good thing.

That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.

And remember, if you want to be one my bag people, it’s here.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Take care,
Josh Rosenblat

📵B1G Power Rankings

Is Northwestern last?

The Northwestern men’s basketball team is very bad. The team is not fun to watch. The team is certainly not fun to write about, nor is it particularly fun to read about. So, the bulk of this newsletter is going to be a midseason, tiered ranking exercise of the Big Ten’s men’s teams.

After that, I’ll share a quick note on Northwestern’s brutal second halves this season.

And, like dessert, I’ll save best for last. The women’s team continues to chug along.

With that, let’s blame some things.

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📵Blame the rankings

Nearly every Big Ten men’s team has played at least 10 of their 20 conference games this season. After suffering through at least one-and-a-half Nebraska games, I think that makes me qualified to rank these teams. Because these tiers are completely subjective and up to my standards, they’re based on a lot of things. Mostly, I looked at the teams’ advanced stats since Jan. 1. I also considered pre-Jan. 1 play, the talent of individual players, coaching, and their watchability. Please yell at me and forward this to all your friends who are Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan fans. :) (All stats are from Barttorvik.com.)

Tier 1: Pretty sure they’re good

Michigan State Spartans, 16-5 (8-2 Big Ten)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 3rd in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, 1st in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

After eviscerating Minnesota and Northwestern this week, the Spartans are back. They’re looking good heading into the back half of their schedule, which sets up to be more difficult than the slate they’ve faced so far, with two games each against Maryland and Penn State, plus a visit to Illinois standing out. I think it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll be a top-10 team in the country by the end of the regular season.

Tier 2: Stat test ✅, eye test ✅

Maryland Terrapins, 17-4 (7-3)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 2nd in ADJOE, 6th in ADJDE

Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. have stepped up big in conference play. A couple stumbles in back-to-back road games against Iowa and Wisconsin earlier this month set the Terps back a bit. But, since then, they’ve pulled out four wins in a row. They have a big week coming up: they host Rutgers on Tuesday and go to Illinois on Friday.

Illinois Fighting Illini, 16-5 (8-2)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 4th in ADJOE, 3rd in ADJDE

Overall this season, freshman big man Kofi Cockburn has been Illinois’ highest-usage player. But looking at Big Ten play specifically, the Illini have begun leaning on star guard Ayo Dosunmu more. And if Illinois keeps winning, Dosunmu could end wind up as a first team all-conference selection. In eight games in 2020, he’s averaged 35 minutes, 5 boards, 4 assists, and 17 points per contest. Illinois is on a seven-game win streak.

Tier 3: Defense first

Penn State, 15-5 (5-4)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 6th in ADJOE, 4th in ADJDE

Pat Chambers is actually good? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, Lamar Stevens is this year’s Aaron Craft (the player you can’t believe is still in college), and he’s been a high-usage offensive player for Penn State, which is a bit of a change from what Chambers’ better teams have been. Offensively, they’ve been guard-led attacks. This year, Stevens gives them a different feel on that end of the floor as a six-foot-eight forward. Defensively, the Nittany Lions are playing like a top-20 team nationally. Can their offense hold up?

Rutgers, 16-5 (7-3)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 8th in ADJOE, 2nd in ADJDE

BartTorvik.com has Rutgers as it’s No. 11 team in the country this season. NUMBER 11. Coach Steve Pikiell has improved this team each season he’s been at Rutgers. But this is a masterpiece, by his standards. Rutgers, statistically, has one of the best defenses in the country. But, like Penn State, I don’t totally trust them on the offensive side of the ball. If high-usage guard Jacob Young ups his efficiency, though, count me in on this team moving forward. (Wow, I can’t believe I just typed that about Rutgers.)

Tier 4: Offense first

Iowa, 15-6 (6-4)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 1st in ADJOE, 12th in ADJDE

Over the course of the season, Iowa ranks No. 4 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to Barttorvik.com. The reason: center Luka Garza. I remember a time when people really thought Northwestern had a shot to grab the big man as a recruit. He’s been one of the most dominant players in the nation this season. Since Jan. 1, he’s averaging over 25 points per game, and has only scored fewer than 20 points once. He’s unstoppable on the block and is starting to step out more from deep. Iowa doesn’t give teams much resistance on the other end, though.

Minnesota, 11-10 (5-6)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 7th in ADJOE, 10th in ADJDE

As I write this, I think I might have Minnesota ranked too high. Despite a tough stretch (at Rutgers, at Ohio State, vs. Michigan State, at Illinois) that saw the Gophers go 1-3, I still believe. They have a five-game stretch on tap where they avoid the top 3 teams in the conference (MSU, Illinois, Maryland). Go 4-1 and you prove me right.

Tier 5: Defense first, lite

Purdue, 11-10 (4-6)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 9th in ADJOE, 7th in ADJDE

Purdue should be better, right? I like their coach. I like their players. But, like, they have to win a Big Ten road game at some point, right? Their ceiling’s pretty high. Look at that OT loss to Florida State and the clubbing of both Virginia and Michigan State earlier this season.

Indiana, 15-6 (5-5)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 14th in ADJOE, 5th in ADJDE

Please utilize freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis’ offensive skillset more in Big Ten games and maybe you wouldn’t be in last place in offense in the conference since Jan. 1. Ten shots per game should be the minimum.

Wisconsin, 12-9 (5-5)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 10th in ADJOE, 8th in ADJDE

Brad Davison is the worst.

Tier 6: WTF??

Michigan, 12-8 (3-6)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 5th in ADJOE, 11th in ADJDE

Remember when this was going to be a rebuilding transitional year for Michigan? Well, it turns out the conventional wisdom might’ve been right all along. I would, though, buy low on the Wolverines. Their offense, especially when Isaiah Livers plays, has still been really good despite their horrible 5-8 run since November.

Ohio State, 13-7 (3-6)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 13th in ADJOE, 9th in ADJDE

Some of these losses haven’t really been close. I mean, at least Michigan has choked away a few over the last month.

Tier 7: Bad, bad

Nebraska, 7-14 (2-8)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 11th in ADJOE, 14th in ADJDE

How has Nebraska beaten Purdue(!) and Iowa(!!)?

Northwestern, 6-14 (1-9)

Advanced stat ranks since Jan. 1: 12th in ADJOE, 13th in ADJDE

Northwestern has only beat Nebraska. But the ‘Huskers, to be completely honest, aren’t nearly as frustrating to watch as Northwestern.

📵Blame second halves

Now’s the time to reveal Northwestern’s second-half +/- stats.

This season, Northwestern is +21 in first halves. In second halves, the team is -74. They have not outscored an opponent in the second half of a game since the 67-66 loss to Hartford on Dec. 29.

In Big Ten play, Northwestern has been bad in both halves. But the disparity is pretty remarkable. In first halves, Northwestern is -17 through 10 conference games. In second halves, they’re -79. They’ve outscored their opponents just once in those games in the second half, a five-point loss to Michigan State at home.

📵Blame bad basketball

Everyone tells me how nice the new Welsh-Ryan Arena is. (I haven’t been.)

Apparently, I’ve talked to everyone who has been to a Northwestern game this season.

📵Blame B.A.U.

I was in a meeting at my job once and someone said, “Things are B.A.U. on our end.”

I asked what that meant and everyone looked at me weird. The speaker said, “Business as usual.”

Why do we need an acronym for that?

Alas, I digress.

The Northwestern’s women’s team went 1-1 this week. They lost a rematch at No. 17 Maryland, and took care of business at home against a decent Michigan team.


This week, Northwestern’s plays teams with a combined record of 5-15 in Big Ten play. And they have an opportunity to go on a run.

Northwestern will not see a currently ranked team on its schedule the rest of the season. While Rutgers, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Michigan are all solid, the Wildcats have a real chance to make up for that loss to Iowa earlier this month.

The first-place Hawkeyes are 9-1 and have a 1 game lead on both Northwestern and Maryland. They still have games at Michigan, at Purdue, at Maryland, and at Rutgers. Maryland also looks to have a tougher schedule with games against No. 20 Indiana and Iowa still to come.

BONUS: (via The Daily Northwestern’s Ella Brockway) players on the team went viral on TikTok for this video.

But coach Joe McKeown doesn’t seem that impressed.

That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.

And remember, if you want to be one my bag people, it’s here.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Take care,
Josh Rosenblat

📵Comparing Boo to B-Mac

In this week's edition: one team wins, the other loses. You know the drill already.

There wasn’t a ton going on this week in the world of Northwestern sports.

The men’s basketball team dropped two games.

The women’s team won two games.

The sun rose.

The sun set.

It’s all the same.

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📵Blame the narrative

We’re now 18 games into Northwestern’s season. So we’re past the point where every five minutes contains a reminder that Pat Spencer played four years of lacrosse and was really good at it.

But that is putting announcers and commentators in the unenvious of having to fill air time by talking about Northwestern — a team consistently overmatched so far in Big Ten play.

The flavor of the month: play-by-play duos comparing the freshman and sophomores on the current squad to the classes that pushed Northwestern to its only NCAA Tournament berth in 2016-17.

It’s happening twice a game now, I swear. And it sometimes gets the addition of a reported endorsement by Chris Collins.

So how true, statistically, is that comparison?

Northwestern’s core five right now is pretty clear: freshman point guard Boo Buie, sophomore wing Miller Kopp, sophomore wing Pete Nance, freshman wing Robbie Beran, and redshirt freshman center Ryan Young.

Compare that with the core group from the ‘16-’17 team: guard Bryant McIntosh, wings Scottie Lindsey, Sanjay Lumpkin, Vic Law, and center Dererk Pardon.

So let’s break it down.

Bryant McIntosh (Freshman, ‘14-’15) vs. Boo Buie (‘19-’20)

Notable advanced stats:
*for definitions, scroll all the way down to the bottom

We’ll start at point guard — by far the most important position in Collins’ offense. Collins employs one lead ball-handler at a time. That’s it. And McIntosh and Buie both featured in that role as freshmen.

Buie’s numbers paint him as a different player than McIntosh, at least during their first years. As a high-usage, three-point-hunting guard, Buie is more trigger-happy than McIntosh ever was. And Northwestern probably needs him to be based on the talent they have surrounding him (keep reading to find out more).

McIntosh, on the other hand, had a surrounding cast that allowed him to be more of a facilitator. That 32.6% assist rate as a freshman was really good, especially when combined with his ability to stay somewhat efficient as a shooter when measured by true shooting percentage. McIntosh got less efficient, statistically, as the years went on. A lot of that, I think, had to do with a rising usage rate and the fact that he really didn’t take too many threes. His scoring came mostly in the midrange with a healthy number of floaters mixed in.

Are they similar? Not really. Buie is a modern shooting lead guard. He’s showing a lot of promise, but I don’t see Buie ever becoming the facilitator McIntosh was. But he’s also playing in an offensive role that McIntosh only took on as a junior once Tre Demps graduated.

Scottie Lindsey (Sophomore, ‘15-’16) vs. Miller Kopp (‘19-’20)

Notable advanced stats:

Let me just put this out in the open. Scottie Lindsey is my favorite Northwestern basketball player ever, but we can get into that another time.

Lindsey was a late bloomer. Miller Kopp is not. Lindsey was a role player on this squad. His job: take and make threes, move the ball, be a secondary ball-handler when needed. That’s really it. Lindsey had to grow into his eventual role as a high-usage scorer who caused problems for defenses at all three levels.

Kopp is Northwestern’s best player as a sophomore, albeit on a worse team. I wish Collins drew up more set plays for Kopp, as it seems like he gets most of his best scoring changes in transition, on the secondary break, or through catch-and-shoot chances.

Kopp’s role now is kind of what Lindsey’s was when he was a junior in ‘16-’17. Lindsey’s usage rate from that season is pretty similar to what Kopp is taking on now. But while Lindsey’s shooting percentages dipped with the increased role, Kopp’s are really impressive. He doesn’t create much off the bounce for him or his teammates. But even so, he’s more than just a standstill shooter. Kopp’s shooting five threes per game right now, which is around what Lindsey was doing as a junior. And at a 40% clip, Northwestern needs to be finding ways to get him to take more.

Are they similar? Yes! Kopp can still develop the off-the-bounce game that Lindsey did as a junior and senior. But, for now, Kopp and Lindsey compare pretty favorably.

Sanjay Lumpkin (Sophomore, ‘14-’15) vs. Pete Nance (‘19-’20)

Notable advanced stats:

This is a tough one.

So tough, that I cheated. Sanjay Lumpkin’s role was very different than Pete Nance’s. But, based on a number of factors, Nance might be best served playing Lumpkin’s role.

Lumpkin was a versatile defensive star who became a pretty reliable catch-and-shoot jump-shooter. He was all threes, layups, dunks, and free throws. A modern “three-and-D” wing.

His offensive usage rate as a sophomore: 11.3%. And that’s the highest it ever was.

Nance has been Northwestern’s least efficient offensive player this season by a pretty large margin. But, his offensive usage rate is just a shade below Kopp’s.

Where Nance shines, though, is as a rebounder and rim protector. He’s long, athletic, and smart enough to ruin games for opponents as he moves in his career. His big issue on that end is foul trouble. He’s picking up over four fouls per 40 minutes in conference play this year. Lumpkin had those issues, too.

Nance can do more offensively than Lumpkin, though. And that’s kind of the frustrating part. He’s a creative passer and isn’t a turnover machine. He can get to the bucket, but struggles to finish consistently.

Are they similar? No, at least not right now. But, I do think that if Nance was to become the best version of himself, it would be in the mold of Lumpkin, with a bit more shot creation on the offensive end. I’m still high on Nance.

Vic Law (Freshman, ‘14-’15) vs. Robbie Beran (‘19-’20)

Notable advanced stats:

During his freshman year, Vic Law confirmed one thing: he was a really high-ceiling player for Northwestern. And he proved another thing: his floor was really high, too.

In my mind, Robbie Beran is doing the same thing with his minutes this season.

Law and Beran both came to Northwestern as big-time prospects, with the size and athleticism to be all-Big Ten players. Law fulfilled that by the end of his career. Beran could do the same.

Looking at their freshman stats, Beran was a better shooter than Law, but Law took more threes. Law also got to the line more, which is an area Beran must improve if Collins wants to eventually build an offense around his ability to get buckets. The playmaking isn’t quite where Law’s was, and it’s taken him a bit longer to get acclimated to the college game.

But man, Beran holds his own defensively. He’s not afraid to use his athleticism and timing to meet opponents at the rim, creating highlight blocks much like Law did during his career. Sure, there are lapses. But the potential is there.

Are they similar? Yes. Beran has a long way to go to eventually play as well as Law did, but as freshmen, they do match-up pretty well.

Dererk Pardon (Freshman, ‘15-’16) vs. Ryan Young (‘19-’20)

Notable advanced stats:

I’ll always remember sitting in Collins’ office before the ‘15-’16 season. The year before was very mediocre. But he was super pumped about the season. And one of the reasons was a player he didn’t want to have to play that season. It was Dererk Pardon.

Pardon was not a big-time recruit out of Cleveland. And I don’t think Collins and his staff realized what they had when he arrived on campus that summer. The plan was to redshirt Pardon during that season. It was Alex Olah’s senior season. And, they signed ex-Virginia Tech center Joey van Zegeren as a grad transfer. Their bigs were set.

But after a good start to the season, Olah went down. And Collins was desperate to try to make a tourney run in Olah’s and Demps’ senior seasons. So, off came Pardon’s redshirt, beginning a remarkable three-and-a-half season career.

Ryan Young did redshirt his true freshman year. And he’s been a pleasant surprise so far this year. His 27 minutes per game are a lot for a freshman big man. His finishing around the rim is OK, not great. He’s hesitant to step outside and shoot threes, but he’ll launch one every game or so. Young’s getting to the line as much as Pardon did as a freshman and he’s been gobbling up defensive boards.

The big difference: defense. That’s where Pardon had an immediate impact. That block rate continued to climb during his time at Northwestern. And he became one of the Big Ten’s best rim protectors. I don’t really see that from Young.

Are they similar? No. Rim protection and rim finishing were Pardon’s calling cards. Young might be able to improve in both areas, but for now, he’s not where Pardon was as a freshman.

The Verdict

The cores aren’t really that similar. You can see some pretty clear connections between the two groups, especially with Kopp and Lindsey. I’ll admit comparing Beran and Law is a bit ambitious, so feel free to throw this back in my face when Beran never averages more than 10 points per game in his career. I can take it.

Overall, it’s cool to see Northwestern have a few promising pieces line up in consecutive recruiting classes, but it’s going to take a lot of individual improvement for this group to have the success its predecessors had.

Also, Collins is going to have to shift his offense around. He’s not budging from his four-around-one sets, nor should he. But Buie ≠ McIntosh, which sets in motion a ton of other things for the eventual development of this offense. But if Buie can get around 15 points per game next season or the season after, it will unlock a lot for Kopp and Beran to excel as off-ball scorers.

📵Blame no one, everything’s great!

Another week, another couple of wins for the Northwestern women’s hoops program. The No. 22-ranked squad took care of business against Penn State over the weekend and on the road at Michigan State last night.

They’re still in first in the Big Ten, but the road does get a bit tougher coming up.

Northwestern will visit No. 20 Maryland on Sunday as the Terps seek revenge for the Wildcats’ big win earlier this season.

That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.

And remember, if you want to be one my bag people, it’s here.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Take care,
Josh Rosenblat

Statistical definitions, courtesy Sports Reference

G: Games

MPG: Minutes played per game

TS%: True Shooting Percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, three-point field goals, and free throws

3PAr: Percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range

FTr: Free throw attempts per field goal attempts, as a percent

ORB%: Estimate of percentage of offensive rebounds a player grabbed while they were on the floor

DRB%: Estimate of percentage of defensive rebounds a player grabbed while they were on the floor

TRB%: Estimate of percentage of total rebounds a player grabbed while they were on the floor

AST%: Estimate of percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while they were on the floor

TOV%: Estimate of turnovers per 100 plays

STL%: Estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while they were on the floor

BLK%: Estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a block by the player while they were on the floor

USG%: Estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while they were on the floor

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