Excluding the grad transfer market, the two hottest names in Northwestern basketball recruiting right now are a pair of four-star point guards who played their high school ball in the state of Illinois. One, Mark Smith, is a late-rising 2017 recruit, and the other, Charlie Moore, a transfer with three years of eligibility remaining. Frankly, both will be tough gets for Northwestern because of the schools it’ll be competing with.
But is the program in trouble without either player? Short answer: Not necessarily. Long answer: Even without either guy, the Wildcats will be fine next season, and provided Chris Collins can make a splash in the 2018 recruiting class, the team should survive the loss of the backcourt that led it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
With its roster as it stands today, Northwestern is set to compete in the Big Ten and make another run in the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18.
Rising seniors Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey will own the lion’s share of minutes in the backcourt next season. Last year, the two averaged 34.2 and 30.6 minutes per game, respectively. Assuming those stay about the same, that leaves just a hair over 15 minutes left at the guard spots. Sophomore Isiah Brown and junior Jordan Ash will be the incumbents competing for those minutes.
All this goes without mentioning the fact that the Wildcats are already welcoming a guard into the rotation in Anthony Gaines. Gaines, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from New Hampton, N.H., is a top-200 recruit and top-50 at his position who has impressed recently.
While the backcourt has plenty to survive (and thrive) next season, the Wildcats, who haven’t seen much production from Brown and Ash, arguably need an elite prospect to replace either McIntosh or Lindsey, both of whom will be graduating after next season. Smith, a 6-foot-5 floor general who burst onto the scene with a dominant, award-winning senior season, would be a dream fit. The Edwardsville, Ill. native is a top-100 prospect and top-20 at his position. He’s got the talent to play right away and develop into a star.
The problem? Smith has offers from tradition powerhouses like Michigan State and Kentucky, along with Missouri, Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois, and it seems highly unlikely at this point that he’ll choose Northwestern. Without Smith, the Wildcats only have Ash, Brown and Gaines locked in past 2018. Getting another guard, either via recruiting or transfer, would certainly help the team for the 2018-19 season.
Moore could be that guy. Moore is a 5-foot-11 point guard who averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman at California. On April 13, he announced his decision to transfer to a program closer to his hometown of Chicago. Northwestern fits that bill and is fresh off its first dance in March.
If Moore were to transfer to Evanston, he would have to sit out next season, but his return would coincide with the departure of McIntosh and Lindsey, opening up a spot in the starting lineup for him, just as a renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena re-opens. It’s unclear where the Wildcats stand in Moore’s pecking order, but his camp has been interested in the program before. Illinois would seem to be the most logical competitor. Yesterday, Moore’s former coach at Cal, Cuonzo Martin, announced he wouldn’t be recruiting Moore to follow him to Missouri.
Even if Northwestern swings and misses on both Smith and Moore, the team isn’t necessarily in trouble. Chris Collins has proven he can recruit talented players at all five positions. He’s got another year before his starting backcourt leaves to find another guard or two, such as 2018 four-star recruits Jahvon Quinerly, Ayo Dosunmu and Dwayne Cohill. It’s also possible that Ash, Brown or Gaines develops enough to start once McIntosh and Lindsey are gone.
Regardless of what happens, the Wildcats are in a good position right now, and can move forward without worrying about missing out on either Smith or Moore. Landing either one would be massive, but the program’s development isn’t dependent on either player.