Hawk 2 Lincoln

Northwest senior forward Ryan Hawkins scans the floor in front of him from beyond the 3-point line at Bearcat Arena in the first half of Northwest's 30-point win over Lincoln Dec. 5. The senior forward moved to fifth all-time on Northwest's career three-pointers-made list in the contest, passing Connor Crooker. 

Hello and welcome to the inaugural edition of my newest column. The main premise, of course, is to focus on anything regarding Northwest Athletics. Whether it be a question about soccer’s recruiting class in 2021, or the chances of men’s basketball winning another national title, I’ll answer it.

How much do you think the future schedule will be impacted by COVID-19. Will that be their biggest challenge this year?

I believe this question was about men’s basketball. Should that be the case, I think it’ll be the team’s biggest challenge. Let’s keep in mind that there are still conferences, ones that house ranked teams, that still aren’t playing yet.

The MIAA tipped off its 22-game, conference-only schedule Nov. 19, which was a week before Division I tipped. The Bearcats didn’t even get to their first game before having their schedule modified.

Their first scheduled game of the season against Northeastern State was moved to Dec. 31 due to the RiverHawks having positive COVID-19 cases in their program. Along with that, the Bearcats had to postpone their Dec. 12 matchup with Missouri Western due to having at least one positive case.

The MIAA announced that teams have to complete 11 of their 22 scheduled games to be eligible for the MIAA Tournament in March. I think the MIAA only expecting teams to complete half of their games to have the opportunity to compete for a conference championship says a lot about the possibilities of the schedule taking a hit.

Is the WBB team turning the corner and developing into a top half of the MIAA caliber team?

Simply put, yes.

The women’s last-second win over Missouri Western Dec. 12 was a pretty good sign for coach Austin Meyer in his third year at the helm. It’s the first time he’s led the women’s program to a win over the Griffons, and the first time the women have beat Western since Jan. 27, 2018. It was the first time they’ve won in St. Joseph since 2011.

They lost to Central Missouri Dec. 3, 58-49, but it wasn’t the Bearcats of old that we all watched against the Jennies. If it weren’t for the women being stagnant on offense at times in that game, they would’ve had a chance to pull closer, and possibly win, at the end.

Meyer is building the program the right way. My advice to any fan of Northwest women’s basketball is to be patient. The Bearcats might not win the MIAA this season, or the postseason conference tournament, but don’t be shocked if they’re right there in the thick of that hunt.

So, yes, I think we’ll see this season that the women are finally turning the corner into a top-half caliber team. At the moment, they’re No. 5 in the MIAA standings, trailing three undefeated teams and Emporia State.

Who is the more valuable player on the MBB: Hudgins or Hawkins?

This should be fun, right? Wrong.

I’ve pondered this before during conversations with other people, and it’s been something I can’t figure out, and haven’t been able to for two years now. They really are like peanut butter and jelly, as cliche as that sounds.

By that, I mean they’re both really good separately, but together they’re unmatched.

Hawkins’ 2019-20 season included 22.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest while shooting 56% from the field and 45% from deep. Those numbers were good enough for Hawkins to be named to the MIAA First Team, and he won the MIAA Defensive Player of the Year.

His 726 points through 32 games was the team’s high. The next closest was Hudgins, who tallied 626.

Last year, Hudgins averaged 19.6 points and 6 assists per game while shooting 53% from the field and the exact same mark from three. Hudgins’ season was enough for the guard to be named the MIAA Player of the Year.

Hudgins’ 53% from deep wasn’t a fluke. It didn’t come off of a limited number with a small sample size. Instead, he shot that high of a volume on 197 attempts from beyond the arc.

After Hawkins dropped 34 to push the Bearcats by Lincoln Dec. 5, Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum noted that the forward is a matchup nightmare. McCollum said Hawkins is too big to have a guard defend him, but too athletic and can space the floor too much to have a big defend him either.

On the other hand, Hudgins hasn’t been met with another guard in the MIAA that he can’t take one-on-one. I think perhaps the only guard in the conference that could defend Hudgins is on his own team (Diego Bernard).

If I was forced to give an answer, I’ll say Hawkins right now because of how versatile having a big that can stretch the floor is in today’s era of basketball. Though, on any given night, that answer could change.

When will more fans be allowed into the arena?

Unfortunately, nobody knows.

Bearcat Arena hasn’t felt the same in the pair of games both teams have played in Maryville. I knew it’d be different, but I guess I never fathomed how different it would be.

The MIAA has put a cap on attendance for each member institution’s venue at 25%, which comes out to about 500 spectators. However, Northwest Athletics is limiting attendance to immediate family and pass-list members. That’s something Andy Peterson, Northwest director of athletics, is planning to revisit at the beginning of the new year.

Peterson said the MIAA isn’t planning on adjusting the 25% cap at each venue, but to never say never, despite the issue not being discussed yet between the member institution’s athletic directors.

Each person in both programs gets four tickets they can give out for every home appearance. If you’re not on that list, it’s hard telling when fans will be allowed back in Bearcat Arena.

How many Power Five schools could NW MBB beat?

I’m going to be looking at the Massey Ratings for this. In that, it says Northwest is the clear No. 1 in Division II basketball, including tenth in offense and third in defense.

Out of every NCAA school that plays basketball, Northwest is No. 191. Kansas State is 17 spots behind the Bearcats — yikes.

Assuming the world wasn’t ridden with a pandemic right now, and that the Bearcats played a full, 30-game season at the Division I level, I’d say Northwest would finish somewhere around 13-17.

This is, of course, assuming they’re playing somewhere like the Missouri Valley Conference, Mid-American Conference, or somewhere like that.

If they played a full schedule, they’d probably be paid to travel and play a few Power Five schools. In that instance, if they had a handful of them, give me the Bearcats to win three.

I’m not too sure an exact number of how many the Bearcats could beat — but I’d give them a chance against nearly anyone. Let’s not forget that Northwest only lost to Duke by 6 points at the beginning of last season, when Trevor Hudgins dropped 27 on Tre Jones, who is now on the San Antonio Spurs.

What are your thoughts on the postseason for Division II basketball? Will testing cost too much or will they be able to have a tournament as usual?

The tournament as usual has gone out the window. The NCAA announced Dec. 7 the Division II tournament field is reduced from 64 to 48. So, we’ve already seen the tournament impacted and we’re less than a month into the season.

I’m really not sure how we get through that season, truthfully. Any season that’s meaningful anyways. Games are going to continue to get canceled throughout the season, and some conferences still aren’t even playing yet.

If we get there, there will be predetermined locations for regional tournaments, though the NCAA hasn’t announced that yet. It’s just hard to imagine the logistics behind 48 teams testing, traveling and playing for a championship when teams can’t even play their regular season games now.

Walk The Talk is a mailbag that focuses on all things Northwest Athletics. To submit a question for the next edition of the mailbag, tweet @ByJonWalker or email j.walker.missourian@gmail.com.

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