It's undoubtedly one of the youngest rosters in the country. Northwestern has six freshmen, one transfer and just six returnees, a wide collection of experience that Chris Collins must find ways to manage.
Northwestern returns four starters and one of its best scorers in Tre Demps, but lately the stacked freshmen class is receiving all the hype. Collins says age won't matter when it comes to the lineup on the court. It's all about winning.
"I always want there to be competition on the team. I'm not big on who's a freshman, who's a senior. I'm going to play the guys that are going to best help us win."
Collins believes competition between players is good for the team, and it pushes the players to be at their best.
"To me, competition makes guys better. There's no greater motivator than if I'm not getting the job done, then there's someone sitting down there that wants to play," Collins said at Big Ten media day. "Our guys knows when they come to practice, every spot is always open."
This year's team may be much younger than that of last season, but there's a lot more depth on the roster now. For much of last year's conference season, Collins was using just six or seven guys. Dave Sobolewski was banged up, JerShon Cobb suffered an injury late in the season, and the team did not have the depth to make up for the losses.
That's where the freshmen class comes in. Bryant McIntosh and Johnnie Vassar are both capable of handling the point. Vic Law may step right into the starting lineup, and Gavin Skelly provides more size down low. Collins said that he likes having the added depth and competition on the roster.
"We can put two equal five-man groups on the floor, and you don't know who's going to win day in and day out," Collins said. "Now that we have more talent in the program, it's even harder to stay on the floor than maybe it was last year."
The young talent has a lot of fans believing in the future of Northwestern basketball, but the outlook for this season isn't so bright. The Wildcats were picked to finish 13th in the conference in the Big Ten media poll. Collins, however, doesn't want his freshmen looking past this season.
"We have to get to where the freshmen understand that we have to play for those guys," he said. "We need to have the finality of a sense of urgency like the seniors have. That's when you can get really good because the seniors play as if there's no tomorrow."
This season is almost certainly the last go around for Sobolewski and Cobb. They could very well leave Evanston without a tournament appearance, but Collins wants them to take pride in the program.
"These guys have an amazing opportunity to be on the ground floor. I'm really proud of the way they have approached that," Collins said. "I also want them to feel the pride knowing that when they come back 20 years from now and they look back to where we've gone, they're going to say 'I helped start this whole thing.'"
Collins was adamant that he's going to get it done at Northwestern. He said they aren't just going to make the NCAA tournament. They are going to become a nationally relevant program. Collins doesn't know when, but the team here now can be the group that started it all.