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With an outstanding 2018 class, Chris Collins lays the foundation for Phase Two

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The Wildcats have had a terrific summer.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan vs Northwestern Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

The vision is a reality. It has been for six months now.

There was Chris Collins, exhausted from having coached three basketball games in the past 72 hours but ecstatic about the announcement that his team was going to the NCAA Tournament. And after the tears and hugs and speech to the fans, he met with the media.

“You don’t get many chances in life to be a part of something historical, something that had never been done,” he said. And he was absolutely right.

But already, the wheels were churning again: “I hope this is just the start of something we can do over the longterm.”

You know what happened from there. Collins and his group of history-makers went to Salt Lake City and beat Vanderbilt and then lost a close one to Gonzaga in the second round. A month passed. Things seemed to have calmed.

Then came a massive extension, one that will keep Collins on the North Shore until 2025. And at that moment, a new vision began to move toward reality, though Collins had been preaching it all along — making Selection Sunday watch parties a recurring event.


Anyone will tell you — we’ll tell you right here — that the performance and development of the first recruiting class is what matters at any basketball program. Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law Jr. all developed into top Big Ten players by their third year in the program, and Gavin Skelly played an important role for the team that made history.

That’s outstanding. It showed that group’s willingness to buy into a process and the coaching staff’s ability to develop raw skill into wins. But when Chris Collins bought into another near-decade in Evanston, he bought into bringing in a recruiting class that could replace his first one. And with Miller Kopp’s commitment putting an emphatic punctuation on an outstanding 2018 class, Collins has done just that.

From a pure basketball standpoint, this class looks to check nearly all the boxes, just as the 2014 class did.

There’s a uber-athletic, point guard Jordan Lathon, a late-June commit who, like his predecessor McIntosh, could be a four-year starter. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if he’s not, though. It would just mean Isiah Brown or Jordan Ash would have improved enough over the next year or so to win the job over a guy who recruiting sites ranked higher than McIntosh. That would most certainly mean a stronger team.

That would also show the growth of a program. It was ok — and actually, for the long-term future of the program, very good — to start a young McIntosh over veteran Dave Sobolewski in 2014. In 2018, if Collins can play his own veteran guards, though, it shows he’s forming a more mature program and able to allow his youngsters to mature. He wasn’t able to do that four years ago.

Then there’s Pete Nance, only the highest-ranked commit in Northwestern basketball history and a guy with NBA bloodlines. Also a late-June commit, Nance is rail-thin but incredibly skilled, and as his body fills out — much like Law Jr.’s did — he has the makings to be a truly special player. He’s a 6-foot-8 beanpole with a guard’s handle and shooting ability plus the patience to score in a variety of ways.

The third commit came in late August in the form of big man Ryan Young. It’s hard to project Young at this point, as there’s not a ton of tape or recruiting information on him. What you can take away from his film is his energy in the post, his ability to finish around the rim and a developing jump shot. Could he be Gavin Skelly 2.0? Maybe, but he’s also two inches taller than Skelly, and he committed to Northwestern just as he seemed to be rising: Maryland had offered hours before Young committed to Collins. A relative unknown when he signed with Northwestern, he recently ascended to high three-star range, per 247 Sports.

And then there’s Kopp, who is a terrific shooter, a capable secondary or tertiary ball handler and a willing finisher at the rim. Want proof? Here he is against one of the best recruits in the 2019 class, Cassius Stanley:

Kopp’s a skilled scorer much like Nance and moves very well off the ball in catch-and-shoot situations. His cuts around screens and in space are precise, and he gets set quickly to get his shot off without a ton of space (and with a high release point).

So a quick synopsis is an athletic, tireless point guard who will join two veterans, a 6-foot-8 shooter with guard skills, a 6-foot-10 big who Maryland probably wished it had offered earlier and now a 6-foot-7 wing who can really shoot it. And that’s not to mention A.J. Turner, who transfers in from a Power Five program as a former high three-star recruit. For those counting, of the five newcomers in 2018, two are/were rated as four-star prospects by 247, and one of the ones who isn’t (Lathon) is rated more highly than the guy who currently holds Northwestern’s assist record with an entire season to go.

This is a quality bunch. For comparison’s sake, here’s what the numbers say about each of Collins’s recruiting classes:

Recruiting rankings by year, Northwestern basketball

2014 247 Comp 2015 247 Comp 2016 247 Comp 2017 247 Comp 2018 247 Comp
2014 247 Comp 2015 247 Comp 2016 247 Comp 2017 247 Comp 2018 247 Comp
Law 0.9493 Falzon 0.9556 Benson 0.9246 Gaines 0.8868 Nance 0.9712
McIntosh 0.8639 Ash 0.8679 Ivanauskas 0.9032 AVERAGE: 0.8868 Kopp 0.9448
Vassar 0.8514 Pardon 0.8385 Brown 0.8628 Lathon 0.9058
Lindsey 0.8368 AVERAGE: 0.8873 AVERAGE: 0.8969 Miller 0.9028
Skelly 0.8304 AVERAGE: 0.93115
AVERAGE: 0.8664

No, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Players often exceed or fall short of expectations. And sometimes talent evaluators don’t rank every recruit correctly. But that 2018 class is mighty impressive.

So what does this mean? Well, first, it means that Northwestern should be well-stocked to continue to win once Collins’ first recruiting class — save Law Jr., who redshirted his second year — has exhausted its eligibility. Maybe, Northwestern can even elevate from simply “winning,” as it did a program-record 24 times last year, to challenging for the Big Ten title.

Well, let’s hold on for a minute. Yes, this has been an outstanding recruiting cycle for Northwestern basketball. Two top-100 guys in one class, one of which has NBA bloodlines? These aren’t your father’s Northwestern Wildcats. But just as it was three seasons ago with the group that eventually led Northwestern to the tournament, it could be difficult for these youngsters to come in and win immediately. Of course, given the veteran foundation that wasn’t really there four years ago, perhaps it won’t be. Just as we’ll have to wait and see just how good this group is, we’ll have to wait and see how much they play — and how good they are — as freshmen as well as how good the group around them is. Frankly, neither the freshmen nor the supporting group around them was very good in 2014. But the numbers — plus the maturing of a program and development of the players under Collins — show that may not be the case once 2018 rolls around.

That Northwestern is stockpiling this type of talent four years after getting its history-making group is really impressive. It’s clear that the success of Collins’ first recruiting class has set him up to have success replacing those players. The future of Northwestern basketball was brighter than it’s ever been six months ago. And today it’s even brighter.