The announcement on Monday that sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson would transfer did not come as a huge surprise. Whispers Abrahamson would consider leaving after this season surfaced well before his move became official. Abrahamson is the third player to transfer since new coach Chris Collins arrived, joining forward Mike Turner and center Chier Ajou.
NU will also lose three seniors (forwards Drew Crawford and Nikola Cerina and guard James Montgomery III) to graduation in the offseason. That’s six players from this season’s roster that won’t be around in 2014-15, in case you weren’t counting. Five (four of whom have already signed NLIs) of those spots will be filled by a recruiting class ranked 37th in the country by 247 Sports. At least one of the two remaining spots is expected to be filled by a graduate transfer.
The net effect of this roster churn is that by next season, coach Chris Collins will have enough talent in place to at least put NU in position to contend for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Only four players from this season’s team should figure prominently into NU’s rotation in 2014: guard Tre Demps, redshirt freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin, center Alex Olah and guard JerShon Cobb. It’s doubtful all five of the freshman NU is bringing in next season will get a lot of playing time, but at least one, and probably two – let’s say three-star point guard Bryant McIntosh or four-star forward Victor Law – almost certainly will. While I have no inside knowledge of any players NU may be targeting via transfer, it makes sense the Wildcats would look to add a big man to pair with Olah.
Here’s a look at the players NU will have on scholarship next season:
Alex Olah, junior C
JerShon Cobb, senior G
Sanjay Lumpkin, sophomore F
Tre Demps, junior G
Dave Sobolewski, senior G
Nate Taphorn, sophomore F
Victor Law, freshman F
Bryant McIntosh, freshman G
Johnnie Vassar, freshman G (unsigned)
Gavin Skelly, freshman F
Scott Lindsey, freshman G
Is that a roster that can at least get itself within shouting distance of the bubble? I think so. There was a stretch in late January when NU played such solid, resilient basketball that national writers didn’t disparage other Big Ten teams for losing to the Wildcats. It was brief, but it happened. NU will, without question, be more talented next season, and the players it returns should be more acclimated to Collins’ style and system.
The trickiest part about projecting how NU will fare is trying to forecast freshman performance. Law, McIntosh and the rest of the players in NU’s class are well-regarded prospects, but it’d be unwise to expect any of them to blossom into stars right away. We also don’t know what type of player NU could land via transfer. If he’s someone that makes NU appreciably better – someone like Jared Swopshire – that, obviously, raises the Wildcats’ ceiling for next season.
Whether NU gets close to making the tourney, the makings of a roster that can post a .500 record or better in the Big Ten – and, at the very least, realistically aspire to earn an at-large bid – will be evident. That may seem like a modest goal to strive for, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. NU hasn’t as much as sniffed the bubble the past two seasons. Getting there in 2014 would be a significant step.