Northwestern looks to bounce back from a disappointing season when it begins the new campaign at home against New Orleans on Thursday. The Wildcats were expected to challenge for a Big Ten championship after returning the nucleus of their history-making squad that clinched the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in 2016-17, but Chris Collins' team regressed on both ends of the court en route to a losing season. Northwestern hopes to be relevant in the Big Ten race despite being picked to finish 12th in the preseason media poll.
"Everybody has approached the offseason with a great sense of urgency as none of us had a good taste in our mouths with the way our season ended last year," Collins told reporters. "I'm hungry as I have ever been and I'm excited to coach this team." Seniors Vic Law, Dererk Pardon and graduate transfer Ryan Taylor, who led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring with 21.3 points per game at Evansville, will be counted on to replace the productivity of the departed Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay. The Wildcats have won the last three meetings with New Orleans, including an 83-49 rout in their last matchup on Dec. 11, 2016. The Privateers opened the season with a 95-66 win against Spring Hill College on Tuesday and hope to stay on the winning track by knocking off a Power 5 team for the first time since a 70-54 victory against Washington State on Dec. 3, 2016.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Check Intertops for the latest line
ABOUT NEW ORLEANS (1-0): Freshman Amari Haynes provided a spark off the bench as he scored 17 points and pulled down six rebounds in the win over Spring Hill College. Ezekiel Charles also tallied 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and Bryson Robinson added 14 in a reserve role as the Privateers' bench scored 50 of the team's 95 points. "With four games in nine days we were able to get a lot of guys in and it was a positive night for us," New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger told reporters. "We have a challenging schedule that's designed to test us but get better along the way."
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (2017-18: 15-17): Law, who came in as the program's highest-rated recruit in 2014-15, will be the focal point of the offense after averaging 12 points and 5.8 rebounds last season. Pardon tallied 11.3 points to go along with 7.1 rebounds and hopes to take another step forward after adding some muscle in the summer. Incoming freshmen Pete Nance - the son of three-time NBA all-star Larry Nance - and Miller Kopp hope to make an early impact. Welsh-Ryan Arena is ready for its first regular-season game after undergoing a $110 million facelift, which forced the Wildcats to play their home games off-campus in Rosemont, Illinois last season.
1. Law needs eight points to reach 1,000 for his career.
2. Pardon set a program record for field goal percentage (.619) last season.
3. New Orleans was picked to finish third in the Southland Conference Preseason Poll.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 77, New Orleans 62 Bet Now
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