When Vic Law committed to play basketball for Northwestern on July 4th, 2013 the "NU era" everyone had been hyping up finally seemed to arrive. Newly appointed head coach Chris Collins had scored his first "star" commit while at the helm (and the first ESPN 100 recruit to ever come to Northwestern), and Law even promised to help recruit other elite prospects around the area to join him in Evanston.
And while the recruiting momentum created by Collins is superior to those assembled by former coach Bill Carmody, the class is still average within the Big TEn. But enough with the pessimism; things are looking up in the world of Northwestern basketball, and two solid rising high school seniors in Jordan Ash and Derek Pardon have already gave Coach Collins their word.
If Northwestern wants to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in the next few years, it will need to continue to build on 2014 and recruit better. We already have a pretty good idea of what next year’s team will look like, so let’s take a look at a way-too-early projection of the 2015-16 roster to get a better idea of the types of recruits Collins should be targeting.
Dave Sobolewski will have graduated, and he’s been a steady presence (putting it nicely) within the program for the past three years. But after last season’s debacle (he shot 26 percent and averaged 5.0 points), it’s unlikely he’ll see anywhere close to the 30ish minutes per night he’s used to playing.
Tre Demps enjoyed a torrid January during which he proved he’s not scared of the big moment at all. Demps wants the ball in his hands at the most important moments, and that’s always a great quality for a point guard to have. But Collins told Kevin last week that he "loves Demps" coming off the bench role, so it’s likely that he’ll appear in a similar sixth-man role to the one he filled last year. He’s sure to see a ton of playing time over the next two seasons, starting or not.
Two talented point guards enter the mix this year in Bryan McIntosh and Johnnie Vassar. All signs point to McIntosh, who has ideal size for the position at 6-foot-3, getting a legitimate chance to start right away. Vassar is an ultra-athletic yet raw player who should see some time as a change of pace option off the bench. Oh, and he can dunk between the legs.
The point guard spot is not and will not be a position of need for Northwestern in the next couple of years. The trio of Demps, McIntosh, and Vassar is a solid one.
JerShon Cobb is one of two players sure to start Northwestern’s season opener (the other being Alex Olah). But he’s a fifth-year senior this year which means he won’t be around after 2014-2015.
The guard positions are very fluid, so expect to some of the guys previously mentioned get some minutes at the two-particularly McIntosh, who possesses the size and length to match up well defensively with bigger players. Scottie Lindsey is the only member of this year’s recruiting class who’s a true shooting guard, but he’s likely at least a year away from seeing significant minutes.
Demps has also proven to be a capable off-ball player who can knock down open shots, so it’s not unrealistic that he’ll play some shooting guard this year. Jordan Ash will arrive on campus in 2015 hungry for minutes. He’s an above-the-rim type player who selected the Wildcats over the likes of Boston College, Iowa, DePaul, and Purdue.
Four of Collins’ five recruits this year are athletes who prefer to play on the perimeter. NU will have no problem filling the guard spots this year or in 2015-2016. The situation isn’t as clear-cut in the frontcourt, however.
Collins started two hybrid forwards for the vast majority of last year, and it seems the trend in basketball is for smaller players to try their luck at the four spot now, so I don’t feel as though separating small forward and power forward are necessary.
One of the two forward spots is Law’s to lose. He’s the most important recruit in Northwestern basketball history and he should make an instant impact on both ends of the floor.
The other spot is up for grabs, and it’s likely a three-man competition between Sanjay Lumpkin, Nate Taphorn, and freshman Gavin Skelly. Skelly has a 6-8 power-forward with a body Coach Collins describes as "Big Ten ready," but it’s Lumpkin who’s the most experienced player, and its vitally important to have those types of players on the floor. He's bulked up and now needs to get his offense in order.
All four players will be around come 2015-2016, but only Law possesses the talent to truly be an impact-player for the ‘Cats. Still, Collins describes him as an "all-around player," not a scorer. If NU wants to compete in the B1G, they’ll need to bring their frontcourt talent and depth level up to par with that of their backcourt.
Collins has a defense-first mentality that relies heavily on a capable rim protector. 7-footer Alex Olah fits that description. Olah was much-improved in his sophomore season, particularly in his movement and positioning. With his size, Olah will always be a shot-blocking threat, and his steady progress suggests that he’s only going to get stronger as the anchor of Northwestern’s defense.
But there’s still plenty of room for Olah to improve, particularly as a rebounder. If you’re seven-feet tall and play 30 minutes a game in college basketball, 5.2 rebounds per game simply isn’t good enough. Jeremiah Kreisberg is new to the program this year after transferring from Yale and should see only spot minutes.
Derek Pardon recently committed to the ‘Cats and will arrive on campus in 2015. Pardon’s 6-foot-8, 215-pound frame suggests he’s still got some maturing to do, but he’s a late-bloomer who chose Northwestern despite a late push from Pittsburgh.
Big men, Please!
But ESPN describes Pardon as "just an average athlete," and Chris Collins has shown that he’s not satisfied with recruiting average athletes. Pardon will improve, as he did tremendously last season, but he's just one player, too. There’s a noticeable difference in quality between the perimeter players Collins has signed and the big men he’s managed to ink.
As a result of that, Northwestern’s backcourt will be crowded for the next two seasons, and there should be healthy competition in practice each and every day for those minutes. But that’s not the case down low. There is space for talented bodies to come to Evanston and contribute right away. Now it’s just time for Collins to find those bodies.