Scottie Lindsey has made remarkable improvements since his sophomore season, and he displayed them in full force Tuesday to explode for a career-high 31 points in Northwestern’s Big Ten opener at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions had no answer for the junior guard, who shot 9-of-14 from the field and led the Wildcats to an 87-77 victory.
“Scottie Lindsey was on fire,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after the game. “We put multiple people on him, and he was still able to find the bottom of the basket.”
Lindsey is now averaging 16.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists with a 119.5 offensive rating and a 55.8 effective field-goal percentage. Quietly, the 6’5″ guard from Hillside, Ill., has increased his assist rate by 40% since last season. With Tuesday’s outburst, he also surpassed the scoring total for his entire sophomore year.
Not a bad step up for a player who was mostly a 3-point specialist his first two seasons.
More impressively, never has a Northwestern player averaged at least 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists for an entire season.
Not John Shurna nor Juice Thompson. Old-timers like Billy McKinney and Jitim Young didn’t do it, either.
If Lindsey keeps this up, not only will he start catching more looks from defenses and audiences alike, but he will also boast one of the best individual seasons in Northwestern history.
With such a season, could Lindsey also join Shurna and Young as the only Northwestern players this millennium to make the All-Big Ten First Team?
It’s plenty early with 17 games left. But with that caveat, let’s take a closer look.
If the season ended today, two players would likely be unanimous All-Big Ten selections: Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan and Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ.
After that, things get murkier.
Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes, the preseason Big Ten player of the year, has overcome a slow start to post big numbers in December. Iowa guard Peter Jok is leading the conference in scoring and doing so efficiently, but the Hawkeyes are an average to below-average team this year. The same goes for Illinois guard Malcolm Hill, who is averaging 18.6 points. Maryland guard Melo Trimble has been on fire the last three games, but he suffered a poor string of performances previously.
Between these four players, Lindsey, Nebraska guard Tai Webster and Indiana products Thomas Bryant James Blackmon Jr., you could take any three guys to fill out your all-conference team and defend your selections without a problem.
But there’s no question Lindsey belongs in the discussion and would be a reasonable choice.
Beyond the numbers, Lindsey’s improvement has been a driving force behind the team’s improvement since last season.
The biggest question for Northwestern entering this season was who junior point guard Bryant McIntosh’s new sidekick would be. Someone had to replace Tre Demps’ team-leading 15.7 points per game.
McIntosh entered the season as Northwestern’s undisputed best player. He most likely still deserves that title, but it’s no longer so clear cut.
McIntosh has turned in several duds this season, shooting better than 40% from the field — not a high benchmark — in just five of 14 games. While McIntosh is still the team’s best distributor, his assist numbers are down and his turnover numbers are up from last season.
Even if McIntosh is still Northwestern’s most talented player, the Wildcats would not be where they are — 12-2 and fiercely competing for their first NCAA Tournament berth ever — without Lindsey’s increased production.
Many analysts thought Northwestern would take a step back this season without Demps and 7-footer Alex Olah. 2017-18 would be the next time the program could compete for a NCAA Tournament bid. Others thought Northwestern would be as good or a bit better than last year and potentially be on the bubble. But no one had Northwestern this firmly in the discussion at this point in the season with a No. 9 seed in the Bracket Matrix. Some bracket projections place the Wildcats as high as a No. 6 seed.
While Lindsey is not as adept as Demps at creating his own shot, he is scoring more than Demps did, and doing so more efficiently while contributing to other areas of the game as well.
Not only has Lindsey answered Northwestern’s biggest question, but he’s done it with a historically good season so far.
Lead photo: Northwestern Athletics