October 25, 2016

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Bryant McIntosh sees the progress.

The star point guard endured a losing season as a freshman and was a big reason why Northwestern set a school regular-season record with 20 wins a year ago.

Now as he enters his junior season, McIntosh sees no reason why the Wildcats can't continue their climb.

''The experiences that I've gone through the past two years, it keeps telling me it's our time, it's my time,'' McIntosh said.

The Wildcats are counting on McIntosh to help them continue the progress they have made under coach Chris Collins and maybe - at long last - lead them to their first NCAA Tournament. Northwestern went 20-12 overall and 8-10 in conference play to finish ninth in the Big Ten a year ago.

In McIntosh , the Wildcats boast one of the Big Ten's top point guards.

He set a school record with 213 assists and ranked second in the Big Ten - ninth nationally - at 6.7 per game last season. McIntosh is also the team's top returning scorer after averaging 13.8 points.

''I wouldn't trade Bryant for any other guard in college basketball,'' Collins said. ''I love the kid. He's been with me since day one. He committed to us and has been there, and we've given him the ball as a freshman. He's done nothing but get better and better every year.''

Here are some things to look for from the Wildcats:

STEADY PROGRESS

Northwestern appears to be headed in the right direction, going from 14-19 to 15-17 to 20-12 in Collins' three seasons. But the question remains. Can Northwestern, the host of the first Final Four in 1939 - reach the NCAA tourney?

''I think you can't let your mind wander to March,'' Collins said. ''I think you have to understand the games in November and December are just as important as the ones in late February and early March.''

Collins thought the Wildcats were in good position to challenge the NCAA drought last year. Losing forward Vic Law for the season to a shoulder injury and center Alex Olah (foot) missing time damaged their chances.

PARDON HIM

Northwestern planned to redshirt center Dererk Pardon as a freshman last season. Olah's injury changed that.

Pardon wound up averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 20 games. Now that Olah is gone, Northwestern is counting on bigger things from him.

''I think he's ready to take that role on. Alex Olah has been such a constant in our program the last four years, three with me,'' Collins said.

LAW RETURNS

Northwestern's NCAA hopes in some ways hinge on Law.

The 6-foot-7 forward brings the athleticism and all-around game that could go a long way toward determining how far the Wildcats go. A highly touted recruit, Law averaged 7 points, 4.8 rebounds and shot 35.5 percent on 3-pointers as freshman in 2014-15.

TWO TIME

Northwestern needs to find a scoring threat to pair with McIntosh in the backcourt, now that last year's leading scorer Tre Demps is gone. That could be up to junior Scottie Lindsey, who shot just under 41 percent on 3-pointers last season. Law might also be a possibility.

OVERHAUL COMING

Say goodbye to Welsh-Ryan Arena for a while.

The 63-year-old facility is in for a $110 million renovation after this season, with chair-back seats replacing wooden bleachers, premium seating, wider concourses and updated audio and video systems. While the arena gets a makeover, the Wildcats will play home games during the 2017-18 season at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

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