Recruiting is one of the few things that applies to all college sports. Basketball, football, lacrosse, you name it – every American institution of higher learning that fields varsity athletic teams must recruit. The art of scouting, courting and micro-analyzing teenagers’ comments and travel plans has grown into a massive enterprise; there are networks of sites dedicated to covering this stuff. It’s hugely informative information for college sports fans, because it allows you to read things about your favorite teams’ incoming talent.
For example, Northwestern is currently pursuing three-star point guard Bryant McIntosh and four-star defensive back Parrker Westphal. McIntosh visited Northwestern this weekend, and the Wildcats appear to be one of the favorites to secure his verbal commitment. Westphal, meanwhile, was once considered to be favoring Michigan heavily, but recent reports (and predictions) suggest he could be changing his mind. Northwestern (and others, including Vanderbilt and Arizona State) appears to have jumped back into the picture.
With that information laid bare, it bears asking: which player’s verbal commitment would mean more to his respective NU sports team? The answer, as is typically the case with these types of subjective debates, is rooted more in opinion than fact.
The case for Bryant McIntosh
The commitment of 2014 four-star forward Vic Law was the first indication that new Northwestern coach Chris Collins can recruit more effectively than his predecessor. The Wildcats don’t typically land players of Law’s caliber – in fact, Law was NU’s first top-70 recruit since Evan Eschmeyer, who signed with the Wildcats in 1993. Law was a big deal, but what did his commitment mean for the bigger picture? Had Northwestern, by landing one four-star kid, suddenly joined the battle for elite Chicago-area and Midwest talent? Could it rightfully compete with the Ohio States and Michigans and Michigan States and Indianas of the world on the recruiting trail?
The short answer: No.
The optimistic answer: Not yet.
Reaching those heights, and wielding that sort of influence on the recruiting trail, is the goal for any middling Big Ten program. Northwestern landed one player any of the aforementioned schools might have targeted at one point or another, but it did not, in one fell swoop, leap into their rarefied five-star prospect-hunting territory. The Wildcats aren’t there yet. Collins and his staff want to get them there.
Doing so will require Northwestern to demonstrate the ability to consistently sign highly-rated recruits from in and around the Chicago area and the Midwest – something former coach Bill Carmody never accomplished during his long stay in Evanston. Law was the first, but one (admittedly important) recruiting flourish does not constitute the perception turnaround Northwestern needs to recruit against the upper reaches of Big Ten competition. It merely suggests it.
Getting McIntosh wouldn’t suddenly make Northwestern into a blue chip hawking force, either. But it would do wonders to nail home the implication of Law’s commitment last month: that Northwestern really can recruit good players; It doesn’t have to scour mid-major circles for market inefficiencies and underathletic and/or flawed prospects; Good, talented, athletic players want to play for the Wildcats.
When any of those statements can be made with even some convincing level of truth, Collins’ apparent recruiting momentum – Law got plenty of people, and recruits, talking – will congeal into something more tangible. A second commitment from one of Indiana’s top players (247 has McIntosh ranked 6th) would push NU closer toward cementing its status as a legitimate destination for the region’s top high school players.
Winning games, making NCAA Tournaments and knocking off top Big Ten teams will mean just as much for the sea change Collins hopes to engender, but in the parameters of this unique cross-sport debate – and considering McIntosh is expected to make a decision before Northwestern plays a game this season – short-term recruiting goals are the most important steps Northwestern can take. Recruiting success builds basketball accomplishments, which attracts recruits to take part in the accomplishments, which leads to more recruiting success. Rinse, repeat. QED.
Once NU can not just initiate, but sustain that cycle, its hopes for upward progress long term in a loaded Big Ten conference won’t seem as dubious as they do for the 2013 season.
In McIntosh, Northwestern would be getting the 213th-ranked player in the country and 44th-ranked point guard, according to 247’s composite rankings. NU would also fill one of its biggest 2014 recruiting objectives – landing a point guard. It needs McIntosh for reasons both tactile and perceptible: not only would the Wildcats be adding a potential four-year starter to pilot Collins’ motion-style offense, McIntosh would boost their recruiting profile and make absolutely clear, if there was any remaining doubt, that Collins and his staff are not shying away from going after highly-ranked players.
With two top-250 players in the fold (and another underrated talent in forward Gavin Skelly), Northwestern would effectively preempt any insinuation that Law’s commitment was a fluke or phony or a one-time occurrence. It would have landed another player top BCS programs – including Purdue, Florida State, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Creighton, Iowa and others – tried but failed to persuade.
The Wildcats would have made a statement. An important one.
- Chris Johnson
The case for Parrker Westphal
In the early months of his career at Northwestern, Chris Collins has made a clear effort to create a recruiting pipeline to Chicago. It's an area where the Wildcats have struggled to pull players from throughout their history, despite the city's center lying just 11 miles from Evanston. In football, the city itself isn't such a hot recruiting ground. There are still great football players in Chicago, but it's not a highly-concentrated area of talent like it is in basketball. Football recruiting is more spread out. However, the Chicago suburbs have become a very fertile recruiting ground for the Big Ten, and it's an area NU has coveted — but failed to capitalize on — for years.
Specifically, the Wildcats have failed to pull in talent from an area InsideNU podcaster Gordon Voit likes to call the "Glenbard Belt." We explained the "belt" — and its significance — in an article this May:
All of Chicago and its suburbs have great talent, but the “Glenbard Belt” — concentrated in Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Carol Stream and Wheaton, but also extended out to Naperville and Downers Grove — is especially rich in talent.
In the past, Northwestern has struggled to keep talent in the Glenbard Belt home. The rest of the Big Ten and Notre Dame have raided the area for years, and even the SEC has made a presence recently. NU prides itself in being a national university and a national program, and the Wildcats’ recruiting reflects that. However, Fitzgerald and his staff can’t expect to build a national contender, or even a conference contender, if they can’t recruit the best players in the state.
Northwestern has a national alumni base and the kind of player the Wildcats recruit comes from all over the country. However, Pat Fitzgerald likes to say that NU's recruiting always starts and ends in Chicago, and with that in mind, it's important for the Wildcats to gain traction in the "Glenbard" portion of the I-88 and I-355 corridor. This year, NU has started to gain some traction. It's pulled two four-star recruits — Wheaton North's Clayton Thorson and Glenbard North's Justin Jackson — from the area, and now it has a chance to pull off the Glenbard four-star trifecta with the addition of Parrker Westphal.
Westphal has been on NU's radar for awhile, but his leader was always considered to be Michigan, which has had significant success recruiting the Chicago suburbs. However, as the Wolverines started to pick up some top defensive backs in the class of 2014 class, things began to shift NU's way. We've been hearing rumblings that NU might be the favorite now, and 24/7's analysts all recently flipped their predictions from Michigan to NU. That would be another huge Chicago-area pick-up for the Wildcats — Westphal is from Bolingbrook — and would further cement their arrival as a major player on the Chicago-area recruiting stage.
Aside from the symbolic feat of firmly planting a flag in the suburbs, NU would be getting a really solid player in Westphal. He has offers from Michigan, Florida, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Tennessee, Wisconsin... need I go on? He's a great prospect and would give NU another top player in its secondary, which has gone from a weakness to a unit full of young talent. Picking up that kind of player would be great for NU — the fact that he's from Chicago would make it even sweeter.
- Kevin Trahan