SUBSCRIBE

Northwestern basketball's odd combo: temporary home, high expectations

This will be a Northwestern basketball season like no other.

The Wildcats will play home games in Rosemont, practice in an on-campus gym better known for hosting intramural volleyball, play the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden and have two Big Ten games in early December.

Oh, and expectations are high enough that the first question coach Chris Collins faced Monday at media day was this: Can you win the NCAA tournament?

Collins chuckled but only briefly.

"If you don't think about winning the NCAA tournament, then you probably shouldn't be doing this," he said. "But there are steps along the way."

Winning the Big Ten, for example. Or the Big Ten tournament. Or even the Naismith event in mid-November in Connecticut against LaSalle and the winner of Boston College-Texas Tech.

"I've said all along that the NCAA tournament was never my endgame," Collins said. "It was a big step and something we needed to do. But the endgame for us is to be a nationally relevant program year in and year out, and we still have a ways to go to get there."

Northwestern has the roster to be a top-four Big Ten team. Sharpshooter Nate Taphorn and Collins-described "glue guy" Sanjay Lumpkin have graduated, but the Wildcats return their top five scorers in Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Dererk Pardon and Isiah Brown and add freshman wing Anthony Gaines and two who redshirted with injuries: Aaron Falzon and Rapolas Ivanauskas.

Promising post man Barret Benson returns, as do backup point guard Jordan Ash and athletic wing Gavin Skelly. Barring numerous injuries, the roster is solid.

The unknown is logistics.

The Wildcats will play at Allstate Arena while Welsh-Ryan Arena gets a makeover. Allstate is at least a 35-minute drive from campus, and its capacity of 17,500 is more than double NU's normal home.

"It will be totally different," Lindsey said. "Last year we built something special at Welsh-Ryan. But if we can get our students out there, hopefully we can fill it up."

DePaul played there from 1980 until March; the Blue Demons move in next month at the new Wintrust Arena, near the McCormick Place Convention Center. The Wildcats will play an intrasquad scrimmage in Rosemont to get accustomed to their new digs.

"We have to make it our home," Collins said. "We have no other choice."

The Wildcats will practice at Blomquist Recreation Center, near the heart of campus. Players like that they can walk to the gym from class or their dorms and apartments.

"We knew we'd be getting a new arena and practice center (in 2018), and that's exciting," Collins said. "But you really don't know about what the temporary (facility) will be like: Are we going to be in trailers? Do we have to practice at high schools?

"Credit our administration. They have done a fantastic job with Blomquist. They've renovated that space, put in a new floor, branded it to make it our own. … We have what we need.

"The biggest adjustment will be logistics with the games. Not being here on campus, just getting used to that."

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad