Heading into the 2015 season, Northwestern features one of its deepest teams in years. While head coach Chris Collins has said his preference would be to play only eight or nine players, he acknowledges that he might have to coach this Northwestern team a lot like Iowa's Fran McCaffery has coached in recent years, using a deep bench. At least at the onset, few players -- other than the Wildcats' established starters -- have appeared to separate themselves. Thus, we are going in-depth on each of Northwestern's scholarship players, providing insight into each players' potential role.
Freshman guard Jordan Ash is on the clock:
Jordan Ash received just three other Power 5 offers outside of Northwestern (Boston College, Iowa, Purdue), but he has some skills that can make him a valuable asset on this year's team. The three-star recruit from the Chicago area committed to Northwestern back in May of 2014. He's a good athlete who can shoot the three and get to the rim, and he was part of a very good St. Joseph High School team. Here's what Chris Collins had to say about him on Big Ten media day:
Jordan, being a local guy, is a state champion here in Illinois. I put a lot on that. Guys come from winning programs, they're around winning. He's a really good athlete. For us, we have a really good back court with him and McIntosh, I think Jordan is kind of that third guard who can come in and spell either guy. I think he can play both positions, he's very defensively a very good athlete.
He's a solid shooter from deep with a good ability to get to the hole. He's also coming from a very good program, and he's a good athlete defensively. Collins noted more than once that Ash has the ability to get after it on that end. It's where he prides himself, Collins said. He's also a versatile option in the backcourt, having played both guard positions.
Like most freshmen, Ash's biggest weakness is, well, his weakness. Ash hasn't faced the strength that some of the guards in the Big Ten offer, and at a slender 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he's not going to outmuscle most of the guys he plays against. Many players will be able to match his athleticism, too, something he isn't used to. Additionally, Ash didn't always seem to thrive offensively in high school. His scoring numbers jumped around; some games he would hit for 20 or more and other games he would be held to single digits. Whether that was simply the result of good game planning or not, he wasn't always a big-time scorer.
As Collins mentioned above, Ash is going to see some time this year as the third guard in the backcourt, backing up both Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps. According to both Collins and Demps, Demps has been working as the second-team point guard, meaning Ash will most likely play as an off-the-ball guard. His role could be somewhat similar to Dave Sobolewski's from last year. Having said that, Sobolewski also saw extended minutes in some games when McIntosh or Demps either got into foul trouble or got hurt, so Ash could see some very meaningful minutes. Overall, though, he'll likely be counted on to spell McIntosh and Demps for a few minutes each half as he adapts to a bigger role next year after Demps graduates.
What to expect
Expect the lefty freshman to see 10-15 minutes a night at either guard position. You probably won't see him running the offense a ton at least early in the year, but he could see more time at the point guard spot as the year progresses. He won't light up the scoreboard, but Collins will depend on him for solid, smart basketball, which will include mainly good defense and smart offense. If Ash can get to the rim with the efficiency he did in high school, that'd be a fantastic addition to the offense, but with his current build, that's probably a stretch. He'll be mainly counted on to knock down shots on catch-and-shoot opportunities, and on defense he'll have to be able to hold his ground even when against bigger opponents. One thing to keep in mind about Collins' comments about Ash, is that the head coach said similar things about Johnnie Vassar, who is no longer with the program.