With Chris Collins headed into his fourth year on the job, it's time to see the stamp he has made on the program carry over to the recruiting trail. After bringing in top-100 wings Vic Law and Aaron Falzon in his first two years, Collins hit on two solid Chicagoland prospects — Barret Benson and Rapolas Ivanauskas — and the Washington State Metro League's all-time leading scorer Isiah Brown in his third recruiting class.
There are plenty of questions heading into this season, especially regarding the backcourt, which remains largely unproven behind Bryant McIntosh. But it's also important that Collins begin to address the class of 2017, which is currently slotted to have two scholarships open with the departures of Nathan Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin, the last holdover from the Bill Carmody era. Johnnie Vassar, although not on the roster, is still taking up one of the 13 basketball scholarships for the time being.
A few weeks ago, we talked to Luke Srodulski of Wildcat Digest on Pound The Talk to get the inside scoop on the Class of 2017. If you missed it, you can give it a listen below.
Northwestern has offered nine Class of 2017 players total. Two of them — point guard Kellan Grady and power forward Nathan Reuvers — have committed elsewhere (Davidson and Wisconsin, respectively).
As Srodulski said, the biggest targets for 2017 are four-star shooting guard Jordan Goodwin and small forward Savion Flagg. With the team certainly in need of backcourt skill and losing two wings, Goodwin and Flagg would fill those positional needs.
A bowling ball of a guard, Goodwin has shot up the rankings this spring, earning offers from Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan State as well as Texas and Texas A&M. The Wildcats' biggest competition for the Belleville, Ill. (just east of Saint Louis) native, though, might be Illinois. All five of 247's predictions have him headed to Champaign. Playing on the St. Louis Eagles AAU team that has produced a ton of talent, like top 2016 recruit Jayson Tatum (Duke) and current NBA player Bradley Beal, Goodwin stands a great chance to pick up more offers over the summer. Still, he has developed a good rapport with Collins. Also working in the Wildcats' favor is that they offered him in December 2015, earlier than many other programs.
Flagg seems to be the next-most-important prospect. A Texas native, he's picked up offers from Texas and Texas A&M and, like Goodwin, has impressed this spring. Collins will undoubtedly be looking for wing scoring in 2017, and Flagg could fit the bill.
Goodwin and Flagg seem like the most reasonable targets at this point. Northwestern has offered local stars Nojel Eastern (Evanston Township) and Justin Smith (Adlai Stevenson), but both have offer lists that will be extremely difficult for NU to compete with. Eastern, a point guard and Junior U.S. National Team player, lives just five minutes from campus, but is leaning toward Tom Izzo's Spartans. A combo forward, Smith has offers from all over the map, including Wisconsin, Stanford, Florida State, Iowa State and Illinois, which is considered the favorite. Getting either would be an absolute coup for Collins and his program.
At this point, Goodwin and Flagg seem like near must-haves for a team that has sent out a lot of offers to blue-chip prospects. Small forward Kyle Young out of Ohio — the final guard/small forward offered in 2017 — recently received an offer from the Buckeyes, and he is expected to stay in state and play for Thad Matta in Columbus.
Down low, Northwestern's future is somewhat more clear despite the departures of Alex Olah and Joey van Zegeren. Dererk Pardon showed flashes of brilliance in a year where he was supposed to redshirt, and Benson has drawn solid reviews. Still, adding a third true big man would be helpful, especially against some of the conference's bigger teams.
Tomas Murphy, younger brother of former NBA player Erik and current Florida Gator Alex, is one of two more traditional big men with an offer. But Tomas has also reeled in a Florida offer, and considering his oldest brother played there and other brother is currently playing there, it will be tough to steer him away from Gainesville. He does, however, attend the same high school as Falzon did, so that could be a selling point for the Wildcats.
Collins has also reached out to center Luke Garza, who looks to be Iowa-bound but has not committed, even after a May 6 visit. Garza holds scholarships from several Power Five schools, so Northwestern has some work to do if it wants to secure his services.
Collins rounded out last year's recruiting class by July, which is relatively early to be done. In the next few weeks, he'll be looking toward Goodwin or Flagg to make a decision. The next month or so is crucial for not just the Class of 2017, but the general momentum of the Wildcats on the recruiting trail as a whole.