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Northwestern needs Welsh-Ryan crowd to roar while it still can

Northwestern needs its home crowd to help keep the good times rolling. (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

This week’s Bucket List — 10 observations on the college basketball season:

1. Welsh-Ryan Arena is in dire need of the facelift it’s scheduled to undergo starting this spring, a procedure that will require Northwestern to play home games next season at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. Will that less-than-exciting home away from home kill some of the buzz around Chris Collins’ improving program?

It sure might, if only temporarily.

But that’s still a long way off. Before Welsh-Ryan goes under the knife, it’ll host five remaining games during the most advantageous part of the Wildcats’ schedule; they play only three road games the rest of the way.

It’s fairly clear how many more victories the 18-5 Wildcats need to lock down their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth — perhaps three, and surely no more than four — and one of the easiest assignments is up next, against bumbling Illinois (Tuesday, 7 p.m., BTN) in Evanston.

It’ll be even easier if the purple-clad fans drown out the orange-clad ones. Northwestern is known for having the friendliest road arena in the Big Ten, a place where opposing fans gather in large numbers and usually make most of the noise late in games. Not this season, though. Certainly not in the most recent home game, against Indiana — the home crowd did itself proud in that important victory.

“The last couple of crowds have been phenomenal,” Collins said. “I mean packed.”

It’s something to build on. And then, starting this spring, to rebuild on.

2. Am I the only who can easily imagine Collins someday replacing Mike Krzyzewski at Duke? The intersection of Collins’ breakthrough season at Northwestern and Coach K’s leave of absence after back surgery probably has led a lot of people to put the two pieces — hot young coach and alma mater — together.

Yet the guy who might be best positioned to succeed Coach K is Jeff Capel, the Blue Devils’ top assistant and a former head coach of Oklahoma and VCU. Capel is one of the great recruiters in the college game, closing on one five-star player after another. Only 41 — nearly three decades younger than Krzyzewski — his personal touch with players is as key an ingredient as there is right now in the program.

Which leads me to another point: Capel, who played with Collins at Duke, would be a very interesting lead for Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman to follow. Another old teammate, Steve Wojciechowski, is doing some good work at Marquette.

3. One more thing on the Duke front: I wonder if part of Grayson Allen’s erratic behavior on the court is related to the emergence of Luke Kennard, who has emerged as a better player and the true leader of the Blue Devils. Last season, Allen was the team’s star. Now a younger teammate who plays essentially the same position has stolen most of Allen’s thunder. Can’t be easy.

4. Ready for a statistical nugget that might be even more impressive than Kansas’ 12 straight Big 12 regular-season titles? Get this: After No. 2 Baylor’s 73-68 defeat at No. 3 Kansas on Wednesday, Bears coach Scott Drew has a record of 0-10 at Allen Fieldhouse. Guess who has one fewer loss in that building: Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who is 217-9.

5. Speaking of Kansas and Baylor: Boo. The tough, active, physical Bears shot six free throws all game, to the Jayhawks’ 27. Again: Boo.

6. “I don’t like Malik Monk,” a certain 16-year-old hoops junkie told his old man the other night. “He thinks he’s Kobe Bryant.”

Kentucky’s spectacular freshman shooting guard isn’t Kobe, but he’s the most fun-to-watch player in the country. His 37-point performance in Tuesday’s overtime victory over Georgia was ridiculous.

Deal with it, sonny.

7. Better Wisconsin big man: 2014-15 Frank Kaminsky or 2018-19 Ethan Happ? It’s pretty hard right now not to go with Happ. The best part: You know he’ll still be around for his senior season.

8. Right there with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten at 8-1: Maryland. What an interesting team — opposite of last season, these Terps are better than the sum of their parts.

9. I propose a best-of-seven series between UCLA (average points scored: 92.3) and Virginia (average points allowed: 53.4). And I’m taking the … actually, I don’t know who I’m taking.

10. Happy trails, Brent Musburger. You were always a good listen.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com