Chris Collins, when asked about his program in relation to others in the Big Ten, always answers with some variation of said coach--be it Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, Thad Matta, etc--serving as a template for Collins and his Northwestern team. Who knows how much of that is fluff and how much is actual praise.
However, when he talks about Iowa and Fran McCaffery--who Collins was a ballboy for when McCaffery played the University of Pennsylvania--he seems to be sincere. This was an idea he reiterated after his team got beat down by McCaffery's Iowa team. The Hawkeyes led the whole way, en route to a fairly easy 69-52 victory.
On Aaron White's (game-high 25 points, eight rebounds), Gabe Olaseni's and Josh Oglesby's Senior Day, Iowa showed how good a team filled with juniors and seniors can be when it fully matures. Northwestern, with most of its key contributors returning for next year and beyond, can take note of how the Hawkeyes have developed.
"Iowa has been a role model for what we want this program to be," Collins said. "They took their lumps early [as a program] and now they're starting to perform."
Iowa, now 21-10 overall and 12-6 in the Big Ten, is a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament, with its seeding dependent on what it does in the Big Ten Tournament. Outside of the Hawkeyes' important seniors, juniors Jarrod Uthoff (16 points and eight rebounds) and Adam Woodbury (13 points) also were big against Northwestern and have already has distinguished careers.
Right now, it's hard to imagine the current Wildcats two-three years in the future, but eventually, they will get there and, if Chris Collins is lucky, they might end up something like White, Uthoff and Olaseni. None of those players are outright superstars--the argument for White could be made--yet they constitute a complete team that can compete in the conference and on a national stage.
After the game, Collins was extremely complimentary of Iowa, saying how he sees in the Hawkeyes "a team that looks fresh and is poised to play well in the postseason." There was a hint of dissatisfaction in NU's coach in saying that, as his team heads to another March without an NCAA Tournament berth and only playoff hopes resting in the CBI, a pay-to-play tournament.
As he has said multiple times, Collins has known McCaffery for a long time and clearly hasn't been able to avoid seeing how successful he has been even at non-traditional basketball powerhouses, a category into which Northwestern would certainly classify.
The question is whether freshmen and sophomores like Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Nathan Taphorn--to name a few--as well as the incoming recruits can live up to their inflated hypes.
Collins has already built his base at NU, and he's done with an ensemble format without any true stars, similarly to how McCaffery has done. All that's left to see is if that base can support a legitimate contender.