EVANSTON -- Chris Collins walked into Northwestern's practice like a coach who just led his program to its first season-opening Big Ten win since a 66-53 win over Purdue at home on Jan. 4, 2006. He shook hands, made jokes about his golf game and wished everyone a happy new year.
His mood, though, changed with the first question of Northwestern's upcoming foe: No. 4 Wisconsin.
There are no weaknesses, he said about the Badgers, who boast the third most efficient offense and 18th most efficient defense in the country, according to Kenpom.
The Wildcats are aiming for their first 2-0 start in Big Ten play since '06 as well when Bo Ryan and co. visit Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday night.
Atmospheres at Welsh-Ryan -- Collins hopes to rely on what he calls a "great home atmosphere" to beat "truly one of the few very elite teams in the country." "Hopefully this place will be packed," he said before pausing to add, "with more purple than red." That led Collins to explaining how he ultimately sees Northwestern basketball's place in Chicago. "I thought last year, I wasn't here in the past, I thought the ratio of home to road became pretty good. That's what we just have to continue doing. My goal is, obviously, with a lot of people in this area, you might have allegiances to your school, but for us to kind of be that secondary school for people who live here... Maybe you went to undergrad somewhere else and that's your team, but kind of adopt us as your local team. That's been a goal for us because we are a smaller private school and we don't have the alumni base other schools have, especially in this city. And, like anything too, when you play well and you win, people seem to like your team better."
Cobb's health -- As far as basketball goes, Collins also said that Tre Demps would remain in the starting lineup despite the reemergence of JerShon Cobb. Cobb's health, according to Collins, is a day-to-day situation. Collins said he would go with the same group: Demps, Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Olah.
Olah on Kaminsky -- One of the more frank and self-deprecating players you will ever talk to, Olah had high praise for his seven-foot counterpart Frank Kaminsky. "I just have to be physical with him, keep him out on the perimeter and contest his shots, you know," Olah said about containing Kaminsky. "We have to guard him as a team. Guys will help me on rotations. We're going to do everything to stop him."
Matching up with Kaminsky -- Of the many things Kaminsky does to change the complexion of an opponent's defense, bringing Northwestern's only rim-protecting presence, Olah, away from the basket is a huge one. In order to counter that and Wisconsin's frontline size, Collins said, Northwestern may play Olah and Gavin Skelly together at times. "They're so big. They're as big as any team with that frontline," Collins said about the Badgers. "They're a power team. There's no question that we're going to have to take a look at some different lineups and show them some different looks."
Experience -- Wisconsin and Northwestern are almost polar opposites from an experience standpoint. According to Kenpom, Northwestern's average experience is 1.14 years, ranking 317th in the country. Wisconsin's is 2.15, which ranks 36th. Four seniors, Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan are major contributors for Wisconsin along with junior Sam Dekker. Sophomores Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are also playing important roles for the Badgers. Northwestern, on the other hand, starts two freshmen and a sophomore, along with two juniors. Only one senior, Cobb, plays a decisive role for Northwestern but even his minutes are limited. "[Wisconsin's] the type of team, because they've played together so long, if you give them the same look the whole game, it may work early, but then they're going to adjust because that's what they do. They're smart, experienced and they've seen it all," Collins said.
Northwestern still growing -- According to Demps, Northwestern's inexperience has caused the team to struggle at times this year. Because there are so many new pieces, Northwestern is still trying to gel and figure out where guys fit. "I think we still have some ways to go, to be honest," Demps said. "We're still kind of figuring out once the sets break down offensively, how to kind of play together and how to move and cut and play off of each other. There's somethings we're trying to work on through this time off and try and kind of brush up a little bit. I think we're headed in the right direction overall."