New York — Northwestern had a breakthrough season in 2016-17, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
In August, it broke through in another area as the shovels hit the ground in a $110 million renovation to Welsh-Ryan Arena. That construction has forced a temporary move for the Wildcats, who will play the upcoming season at Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont.
“Certainly, it’s going to be different this year not having an on-campus facility,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Excited about what’s coming down the pike. But for this year, logistically, it will be different.”
The arena is roughly 30 minutes from campus, which creates not only a problem for students to come and see the team that many expect to contend for a Big Ten championship, but it also can be a hassle for the players and coaches who need to become accustomed to not playing and practicing on campus.
But Collins is counting on the veteran makeup of his team.
“We tried to get out there and practice a handful of times here in the early part of the season, just so the guys get a familiarity with that travel, with what the gym is like and new locker rooms, all those kind of things,” Collins said. “And I’m just relying on my older guys to be mature about it. And I’ve told them, like, we just have to make it our home. It’s going to be our home arena. I do believe that people are going to come out and watch this team.”
That team is one that has high hopes, and has the veterans to back that up. Seniors Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey were named to the preseason All-Big Ten team while senior Gavin Skelly and juniors Vic Law and Dererk Pardon are coming off solid seasons.
Collins called this season a “new journey,” but he’s also preaching to the team that just getting to the NCAA Tournament one season is not the goal for the Wildcats.
“There’s a lot of patting on the back. There’s a lot of ‘Great job, it was so fun,’ all those kind of things, which as a person you like hearing those things,” Collins said. “I can tell you when I came to Northwestern, the NCAA Tournament was a goal, but it wasn’t the end goal. The end goal was to try to build a program that could be respected and could be relevant year in and year out. And we still have a lot to accomplish to get to that point.
“So, their leadership has been vital, the way they’ve approached the summer. And we don’t talk about last year. I told the guys, like, there’s nothing to talk about. Every team is different. Every season is different.”
It was the first media day for three coaches as Indiana’s Archie Miller, Illinois’ Brad Underwood and Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann. The expectations aren’t terribly high for any of the three as a recent media poll picked Indiana to finish ninth, Ohio State 11th and Illinois 12th in the Big Ten.
They all come in with a solid resume, and all expect to exceed expectations. Miller spent the past six years at Dayton, reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of last four seasons. Holtmann was at Butler the last three seasons and had the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16, while Underwood spent last season taking Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament after three years at Stephen F. Austin.
“I think this league — I left a league of outstanding coaches, and one of the things I know for certain, with this league, is it has some incredible coaching and terrific talent, terrific players,” Holtmann said. “This league has led attendance in the nation, the last 41 years, and I think that speaks to the quality of play and the excitement in the Big Ten. Can’t wait to get started and looking forward to it.”
Nebraska coach Tim Miles on speaking after Jim Delany: “I love following the Commissioner. You know a guy is highly intelligent when he can say that much and say that little. So, good luck writing all that stuff, folks.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter on the rivalry with Indiana being protected: “We finally found something we agreed upon. So hopefully that’s the case and we can continue to do that here on out.”