Brooks Barnhizer lifting NCAA tournament bound Northwestern
By Sam King, Lafayette Journal & Courier,2023-03-14
CHICAGO − Brooks Barnhizer almost ended up playing college basketball at Butler.
As an Indiana kid, the appeal of suiting up in Hinkle Fieldhouse nearly drew him in.
Barnhizer had other options, other schools like Butler that had a rich basketball history.
He also had a scholarship offer from Northwestern, a Big Ten program with almost no basketball history to speak of. It's easy to see what coach Chris Collins saw in the versatile 6-foot-6 Barnhizer, a scoring, rebounding, passing and shot blocking savant from Lafayette Jeff.
"He's an Indiana scoring machine, son of a coach, he's a competitive kid," Collins said. "He's averaged over 30 points a game in high school, so he's used to putting the ball in the basket. ... He can score. He can rebound. He's very unique. He can post. He can handle the ball in pick-and-roll."
The Wildcats had been in just one NCAA tournament in their history.
And, as wild as it sounds, that appealed to Barnhizer.
If you can go to Northwestern and win, you've done something. If you can help make the Wildcats a winner, you'll be remembered forever.
So he committed.
Fast forward two years.
Northwestern finished second in the Big Ten Conference.
The Wildcats are a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament, their now second appearance in the Big Dance.
And Barnhizer is the team's sixth man, but playing starter's minutes and averaging 7.7 points. He's the team's second-leading rebounder, averaging 4.9 per game.
"It's always been here," Barnhizer said, referencing a program that had the resources to be a relevant basketball school. "It's just kind of been like we've got to have that push to kind of get it over."
This season, Northwestern has, doing things this program doesn't do.
On Feb. 12, the Wildcats beat Purdue 64-58, the program's first win over the No. 1 team in the country.
Fans stormed the court.
Northwestern beat Indiana not once, but twice, and beat Michigan State, schools that are traditional powerhouses.
The Wildcats made their own appearance in the Top 25, led by guards Boo Buie and Chase Audige. And with a healthy Barhnizer, who was still trying to find his way after a stress fracture that he gutted through during his senior year at Lafayette Jeff.
Now he's healthy and he's doing exactly what he went to Northwestern to do, make a name for the Wildcats in college basketball.
"I feel like this summer is where it all really started," Barnhizer said. "We all came together and kind of told each other it's going to be this year."
Barnhizer spent half his sophomore year still on the cusp of breaking through.
When he scored 18 points against Illinois-Chicago on Dec. 20., it seemed like Barnhizer's breakout moment.
A week later, Barnhizer went scoreless against Brown and would score in double figures - 10 points at Michigan - just once in the next 12 games.
Then, it clicked.
Barnhizer made 7 of 10 shots and scored a career-high 19 points, leading Northwestern to a Feb. 9 win at Ohio State, the second in a five-game win streak that included victories over the aforementioned Purdue Boilermakers and Indiana Hoosiers.
That performance was the first of seven times Barnhizer would score in double figures in the past nine games.
"He was hurt about halfway through the season last year, and it was frustrating for him because he wanted to be out there," Collins said. "He was kind of playing catch-up. He never got into the rotation.
"I give him a lot of credit. He worked his tail off and stayed with us in a day and age where a lot of people would probably walk out the door. He knew he was in the right spot and he could be a goodplayer. I think he's showing now that he's going to be kind of a stalwart of who we are going forward."
Collins said this Friday night at the United Center.
Northwestern was beaten in over time by Penn State for the second time in nine days in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, but to no fault of Barnhizer, who scored 15 points and had 11 rebounds.
At the postgame press conference, Barnhizer kept dipping his head and staring at the podium in almost disbelief.
All Barnhizer could reiterate when asked about his outstanding individual performance was that it wasn't enough to win.
How far we've come.
Northwestern, a perennial pushover in the Big Ten, was expected to win.
Better days are ahead, though.
"I know there's a lot of positive ahead for us, and we've still got a lot of ball for us," Barnhizer said.
The Wildcats are in Sacramento now, at the Golden 1 Center, for an NCAA tournament game against 10th-seeded Boise State.
Northwestern is good enough to win games in the NCAA tournament now.
If the Wildcats do, they'll need Barnhizer to do so.
"I'm just excited to see what he can become," Collins said. "Hopefully not wait too much into the future. We can get a great performance out of him in the tournament."
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.