By Andrew Clausen - Georgia Tech and Northwestern are meeting for the fourth time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but the Wildcats will play on the Tech campus for the first time. On Northwestern’s last visit to Atlanta, the game was played at Philips Arena. This is the seventh in a series of previews of the Yellow Jackets' non-conference opponents.
Location: Evanston, Ill.
Conference: Big Ten
Home arena: Allstate Arena (18,500)
2016-17 Record: 24-12 overall, 10-8 in Big Ten (t-5th)
Post-Season: Lost to Gonzaga in the 2017 NCAA Second Round, 79-73
NCAA Postseason Appearances (Last): One NCAA (2017); Seven NIT (2012)
All-time series record: 2-1, Northwestern (last meeting in 2014)
Head coach: Chris Collins (five seasons)
Starters returning/lost: 4/1
Top scorer returning: Bryant McIntosh (14.8)
Top rebounder returning: Dererk Pardon (8.4)
Quick preview for 2017-18
Northwestern is poised to only improve on its historic 2016-17 season, bringing back four of its five starters, including its top scorer and rebounder. In just five seasons, head coach Chris Collins has turned a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten program into an at-large NCAA Tournament-worthy team, getting its first NCAA berth in program history last year and making it to the second round before ultimately losing to eventual runner-up Gonzaga.
The Wildcats made their name on the defensive side of the floor and should continue to provide opponents problems after finishing second in the Big Ten in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense (.403). If Northwestern hopes to make the leap from fifth place in the Big Ten, the goal will be finding more consistent team offense. Despite having three players averaging in double figures, the Wildcats finished second-from-last in the conference in scoring offense (71.1 points per game).
Quick recap of 2016-17
Northwestern is coming off one of its best seasons in program history. Despite a fifth-place finish in the uber-competitive Big Ten, the Wildcats finished 24-12 overall, thanks largely to a 15-2 run at one point in the season. With key wins over Wake Forest, Nebraska, Rutgers and Wisconsin, the Wildcats stifled teams’ offensive efforts, finishing second in the Big Ten in scoring defense. For the first time in school history, Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament, falling in the second round to Gonzaga.
Leading the way for Northwestern was Bryant McIntosh. The junior led the team in a plethora of categories, including points per game (14.8), assists (188), free-throw percentage (.870) and minutes played (1,231). Shooting a blistering 40.4 percent from the field, McIntosh earned a selection to the NABC All-District Second Team. Rebounding-wise, 6-8 sophomore Dererk Pardon crashed the boards hard for 16 games, averaging near a double-double (9.3 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game).
Greatest Program Accomplishment
Locking up the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth would prove to be no easy feat as the Wildcats needed a dramatic win over Michigan to seal the deal. Coined “The Play,” Nathan Taphorn inbounded the ball the entire length of the court with just 1.7 seconds left in regulation to a streaking Dererk Pardon, who was able to convert the layup as time ran out, giving Northwestern its postseason berth.
NU would continue its historic run into the first round when it downed an impressive Vanderbilt squad by two points, 68-66, to move on. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the second round matchup was the eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up, Gonzaga, who would escape with a 79-73 win to end Northwestern’s season.
Greatest player in program history
The all-time leading scorer for Northwestern, John Shurna battled for the Wildcats from 2009-12 and amassed 2,038 points. Shurna was a three-time all-Big Ten selection and the 2012 Big Ten scoring champion before eventually signing with the New York Knicks. While he was waived before the end of the 2012 preseason, the Glen Ellyn, Ill., native will go down as the greatest scorer in NU history. Along with the career scoring record, Shurna also holds the single-season scoring record with 661 points (20.0 pts/game) in 2012. His best game came against LSU, when the senior exploded for a 37-point outburst, tying the most points scored during the Bill Carmody era and giving the Wildcats the 88-82 victory.
His other accolades include being named the 2010 Sporting News Most Improved Player and an honorable mention in Associated Press’ 2012 All-American list. He also helped lead the FIBA U-19 USA Basketball team to a gold medal in 2009.
Place to visit on campus or in the city
Located just North of the city of Chicago on Lake Michigan, Northwestern affords a full array of attractions for students. Whether taking in the beaches on the lake or heading to the Museums of Science and Industry or Contemporary Art, being right next to the third-largest city in the U.S. has its perks. But probably one of the most relaxing places can be found at Dawes Park. Nearly 18 acres large, Dawes Park is right in Chicago’s Park District and features baseball fields, basketball courts, football/soccer field and a spray pool. Each week, Dawes Park also hosts events for the community, keeping the park at the top of the “things to do list” year-round.