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Inside NU mailbag: Grad transfers, man or zone, purple courts and suits, and more

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the spring, with Northwestern sports in somewhat of a lull, Henry Bushnell — and possibly other Inside NU writers — will, from time to time, field questions from you, our readers, on social media and answer them in whatever way he or they choose.

Below is the first edition of what may or may not be many Inside NU mailbags. We weren't able to get to everybody's questions, but some of those that were left out may be answered next time.

To submit a question for the next mailbag, comment on this article, comment on our Facebook page, Tweet @insidenu, or email us at

Will Northwestern bring back Bill Carmody?
- Jordan Herald, @JordanHerald5

Wow, this whole mailbag thing is off to a fantastic start.

Going man-to-man next season, or is the Chameleon here to stay?
- MacArthur Antigua, @macarthur31

I don't see any way Northwestern is exclusively a zone team next year. Collins doesn't want to be that. It's very rare that a successful team relies solely on a zone, and the exceptions are coached by some of the best in the business.

Personnel aside, Collins and his staff would like to play man. For for two straight years now, they've had to switch to zone out of necessity. As Armon Gates told Josh Rosenblat and me after a January practice, the reason for switching to the zone was that the team's man defense "f*****g sucked." A year ago, here's what Brian James told me about the switch to the zone in mid-February:

"Whatever we were doing, it wasn't working for 10 games. It might be those things that will work next year. But for this time, we wanted to change everything."

In both cases, this season and last, the move to zone was effective — briefly. Northwestern was throwing something at teams that they hadn't seen before. The Wildcats' one big win this year, against Wisconsin, came because the Badgers' were befuddled by the Chameleon. It wasn't sustainable though. Just as Illinois ravaged NU's zone last year, teams found a formula to beat this year's zone, and began to exploit it. Collins couldn't adjust.

There's a place for some type of zone in next year's master plan. It can and will be effective as a changeup, even if the fastball — man-to-man — is merely average or slightly below. But, like last season, I'd expect Northwestern to come out in November and December playing man, and then, like the last two seasons, adjusting if necessary.

What exactly is Johnnie Vassar's scholarship status?
- Mike Deneen, @MikeDeneen1

Let's just clear this up for everyone who is wondering. Johnnie Vassar is still on scholarship at Northwestern, despite no longer being a part of the basketball program. The university guarantees four-year scholarships, so if Vassar pleases, he can continue to attend Northwestern and take classes until the end of the 2018 academic year. If he does, he will continue to count towards the 13-scholarship limit that all Division I college basketball programs must operate under.

At the moment, we have nothing to report. Vassar is still enrolled at Northwestern for the spring quarter. If there is news, don't worry, we'll have it for you.

Are we done with grad transfers? If not, are we gonna get another big, or is it best player available?
- MacArthur Antigua, @macarthur31

Unless Vassar transfers, or another scholarship somehow opens up, Northwestern doesn't have a spot for one. That said, Jon Rothstein recently reported that NU is one of seven finalists for College of Charleston transfer Canyon Berry. If we put 2 and 2 together, it's clear Northwestern is, at the very least, getting a head start in the transfer market just in case a spot opens up.

If a spot were to open up... Northwestern would indeed go after a grad transfer. Collins and his staff wouldn't target a big though; they'd target a 2-guard who can score. Essentially, they'd be looking for a stopgap to create a bridge from Tre Demps to whomever the 2-guard is in 2017-18 — maybe a much-improved Lindsey, maybe Isiah Brown, maybe a class-of-2017 recruit. A guard to complement McIntosh is the current roster's biggest need.

Who out of Lindsey, Sanjay, Falzon and Law won't start? Four players for three (or even two?) spots.
- Jon Leibowitz, @HPfortheTD

I actually think there are four near-locks to start: McIntosh, Pardon, Law and Falzon. Perhaps Benson usurps Pardon at some point. Perhaps Falzon doesn't develop and loses his place among the five. But I feel pretty confident about those four.

I think Lumpkin will be the fifth. I don't think Northwestern's best lineup involves Sanjay Lumpkin, because he's such a black hole on offense, but I do think there's something to be said for A) Starting a fifth-year senior captain, and B) Making sure he's in the game alongside McIntosh, Law and Falzon, three of your four most potent perimeter players.

The question that raises is, "who is the 2-guard?" But who says you need a true 2-guard? Basketball has trended away from that traditional 1 through 5 alignment, and Collins has said that positions 2 through 4 are more or less interchangeable. It's better to let personnel determine lineups rather than try to pigeonhole guys into one of five spots.

Why doesn't Nate Taphorn play more?
- Michael, @mlforange

Because — and this is going to shock you — if I'm not mistaken, Chris Collins did in fact watch Northwestern play basketball this year. He therefore did in fact watch Nate Taphorn play defense. Or, more accurately, not play defense.

Early thoughts/expectations for Pardon next year?
- Dan Sagerman, @sagermandan

How do you see Barrett Benson fitting into the rotation next year?
- Tanner Davis, @heyouwitheface4

Let's amalgamate — hey, did you know I go to Northwestern — these two questions in order to discuss the center position next year as a whole.

My favorite part about Benson and Pardon together is that their games seem to complement each other, not in that they'll play together in two-big lineups, but in that their respective skill sets will allow Collins to counter a lot of what opponents throw at him. Pardon is the more athletic of the two, the better rebounder at the moment, while Benson is far more skilled around the basket and as a face-up option. Playing time, therefore, will likely be divvied up situationally, unless Benson either blows the coaching staff away or disappoints over the summer. Pardon will likely play 30 minutes in at least one game. So will Benson. I think both can be solid B1G men (see what I did there?).

When will Welsh-Ryan Arena get a purple court?
- Fake Coach Fitz, @FakeCoachFitz

When will Ryan Field get purple turf?
- Austin, @bainard

I'd actually like to throw this one back at you guys. If you were Jim Phillips for a day, and could put in one (and only one) purple playing surface, which would you choose?

Has Chris Collins considered a purple suit? Not like a Barney-type brightly-colored number, but something darker and classy.
- Austin, @bainard

This is a really important question. Like, why don't we talk about Collins' wardrobe/game attire? Fitz sent Northwestern fans into a frenzy this year with this tactical innovation in wins over Stanford and Duke. Had the magic of the shorts not worn off in the Outback Bowl, I was preparing a column ripping Collins for being afraid to expose his calves to national TV audiences.

Collins needs to spice things up. That much is clear. I'm not sure a purple suit is the answer though. The distinction between the Barney suit and the classier deep purple is important, but I've seen some Northwestern students go to the purple suit as a joke/costume, and it is NOT a good look. What Collins absolutely cannot do is go Sidney Lowe and dedicate himself to the team-colored jacket, but not follow through with the team-colored pants.

There have to be options other than a purple suit though, right?

What if, say, Collins went — *gasp* — n o   t i e...

carmody gif branded

UPDATE: *Sources* say a purple suit for Collins is "highly unlikely."

Isn't there always just one question for NU bball fans?
- Charlie P, @ChadWatkins2

I assume, Charlie, that you are referring to whether or not Chris Collins will rocking the all-purp next year. That has already been addressed.

Talk to y'all next time.