The idea that Chris Collins will coach Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament appearance is a long-term proposition. Barring a miraculous midseason turnaround, or a Big Ten Tournament championship, the Wildcats will not make the NCAA Tournament this season. Most didn’t expect they would in Collins’ first year. It will likely take years of improved recruiting – a wholesale build (I left out the prefix “re” because Northwestern didn’t have anything built up before Collins arrived, or ever, really).
In just a few months’ time, Northwestern, buoyed by the positive energy Collins has infused into the program, has made big strides on the recruiting trail. Three-star point guard Johnnie Vassar, who verbally committed to the Wildcats last week, is the latest addition to a five-man class that ranks 25th in the country in ESPN’s class rankings. Victor Law, a consensus top-100 recruit, is the most highly-touted player Northwestern has signed in 20 years. When Law, Vassar and the rest of the 2014 class arrives on campus next year, Northwestern should be a more talented team.
But there are only so many players Collins can bring in. Even after taking into account forward Mike Turner’s recent decision to transfer, Northwestern has filled its 13 scholarships for next season. Here’s a rundown of the players Northwestern -- assuming forward Mike Turner is the only player who will transfer away before the start of next season -- will have on scholarship for 2014:
Johnnie Vassar (Fr., G)
Bryant McIntosh (Fr., G)
Scott Lindsey (Fr., G)
Victor Law (Fr., F)
Gavin Skelly (Fr., F)
Alex Olah (Jr., C)
Chier Ajou (So., C)
Kale Abrahamson (Jr., F)
Nathan Taphorn (So., F)
Dave Sobolewski (Sr., G)
Tre Demps (Jr., G)
JerShon Cobb (Sr., G)
Sanjay Lumpkin (So., F)
If the freshmen arrive as good as advertised, next year’s team should be better than – or at least as good as – this year’s. But there’s no denying Northwestern could use another big man. Collins can address this problem by tapping the transfer market, but that would mean one or more of Northwestern’s current players would have to a) transfer b) be asked to transfer. NU offers four-year scholarships, so no NU player can be subjected to Jared Drew treatment — that is, Collins can't just decide to not renew their scholarship. It has to at least be a mutual decision, even if Collins pushes for it.
It’s been suggested Collins and his staff have been looking around for a big man who might be interested in joining the Wildcats. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune recently wrote that Northwestern, “will look to add a big man as a fifth-year transfer.” Given Northwestern’s need for a frontcourt player to complement Olah, its likely starting center, this makes sense.
It will be interesting to watch this situation develop. When Turner took a leave of absence in September, it was expected that he would eventually transfer. It is not known who the next Northwestern player to leave will be, or whether one will even leave in the first place.
For Collins to accelerate the talent upgrade he needs to make Northwestern an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, asking one or more players to leave or give up their scholarships might just be the cost of doing business, though the the fact NU offers four-year scholarships means it would have to be done with more respect than at other schools that don't offer them.