The 2018-19 Northwestern basketball season is going to be a lot of fun.
The team will move back into a newly-renovated, modernized Welsh Ryan Arena and have a true home court advantage again. And yes, the Wildcats will lose history-making seniors Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Gavin Skelly, but they’ll also be ushering in a new generation of talent.
Next year’s freshman class, the 2018 recruiting class, is easily the best in Northwestern history from a rankings perspective. Three of the top four NU signees EVER are coming to Evanston this summer.
Yeah, all five of those guys will be playing together. Also joining the team will be three-star big man Ryan Young (who may redshirt) and junior Boston College transfer AJ Turner, himself a former four-star recruit.
Look at this potential rotation:
There’s a lot of length, athleticism and shooting ability in that rotation. At least a couple players will need to emerge as shot creators with McIntosh gone, but on paper, it looks like a group that could have a bounce-back year.
For that to happen, though, the heralded freshman class will need to step in and contribute right away. Let’s check in on how the foursome is doing as their senior years come to a close.
Stats for Lathon and Young come from Maxpreps.com
Lathon was the first piece of the puzzle to come together when he committed in June. A 6-foot-4 point guard from Grandview High School in Missouri, Lathon is a terrific athlete who does a little bit of everything on both sides of the floor for one of the best teams in the state. Lathon missed some time this season with an injury, but has been outstanding in the 14 games he’s played in so far. Grandview is 20-2 with three regular season games left, but both of those losses came with Lathon sidelined.
He is only the third-leading scorer for the Bulldogs, averaging 12.3 points per game (down from 16.5 last year), but Lathon’s job isn’t just to score. He’s leading his team in assists (6.8), rebounds (6.5), and steals (2.4). He had a 15-point, 13-rebound, 11-assist triple double in January and came one assist short of another one last week. Lathon also has shown the ability to go off in the scoring column when he needed, dropping 29 against conference rival Raytown South. Last week, in addition to the near-triple double, he put up 23 points in one game and 14 assists in another.
Check out the highlights from his 15-point, 10-rebound, 9-assist, 4-steal game last week.
It’s clear from watching that brief tape what Lathon’s strengths are. He’s long for the point guard position, which allows him to be a strong defender and helps him get to the rim. His leaping ability shines in his strong finishes and his rebounding. Lathon had six offensive rebounds in that game, a blowout win for Grandview. It isn’t featured in that video, but he does have a capable long-range jumper, hitting 38% of his threes this season on roughly 2.5 attempts per game.
Northwestern will have two upperclassmen point guards on the roster next season in Jordan Ash and Isiah Brown, but I think Lathon has a real chance to come in and win the starting role right away. He’s taller than both Brown (6-foot-2) and Ash (6-foot-3), and while he might have less offensive explosiveness than the former and less defensive experience than the latter, his ability on both ends of the floor could be enough to earn plenty of playing time, if not the starting role.
If you want to watch more Lathon, here’s another short game highlight from this season:
You can watch several videos from his 2016-17 junior season at his Hudl page.
Pete Nance is the highest-ranked recruit in Northwestern basketball history, and for good reason: the 6-foot-9 wing/forward has the NBA in his blood and his potential. Nance, the son of 3-time All Star Larry Nance, got some good news last week when he found out his brother Larry Nance Jr. had been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Pete goes to Revere High School in Richfield, OH, less than 30 minutes away from Quicken Loans Arena.
Unfortunately, Revere doesn’t have statistics on Max Preps, but according to Cleveland.com, he’s averaging 20.1 points per game. Last month, Nance became Revere’s all-time leading scorer. They are currently 12-5 and leading their conference. Back in June, Nance was the second domino to fall when he chose NU over Michigan and Ohio State just days after Lathon committed.
What makes Nance such an exciting prospect is his blend of inside and outside ability. His length and athleticism (sense a theme here?) help him dominate down low, but he can also step out and knock down threes. That ability makes him extremely difficult to stop on offense.
Look how smooth his long-range stroke is:
Revere coach Dean Rahas has been quoted as saying Nance “is further along than his older brother Larry at this age.” All Larry Jr. did was lead Wyoming to the NCAA Tournament and get drafted in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft. He’ll be in the dunk contest this Saturday.
Upperclassmen Vic Law, Aaron Falzon, and AJ Turner will play a lot at the wing spots, but Nance should have every opportunity to earn minutes alongside them. The biggest thing for him will be getting stronger. Nance needs to add muscle and develop his game on both ends, but his ceiling is almost limitless. I can’t wait to see what he can do next season and beyond.
The third four-star recruit in the 2018 class, Kopp is a star on one of the best teams in Texas. His Houston Christian team is 28-5 this season, and like Nance, Kopp became his school’s all-time leading scorer this season. I couldn’t find full stats for Kopp either, but uh, I’m gonna go ahead and assume he doesn’t have much trouble in the scoring department.
Congrats to @HCHSAthletics 74-54 championship win over Mansfield Lake Ridge. Miller Kopp (MVP) with 38 pts in final Savhir Wheeler (All Tourney) w 13 points. @hoopinsider @RcsSports @WacoTribSports @HoustonChronHS pic.twitter.com/8NG1cbInSR— Matt Brown (@Matt_Brown03) December 30, 2017
Miller Kopp 35p (18/19 FTs), Jalon Clark 19p/9r, Sahvir Wheeler 14p/11a/9r led Houston Christian to a 79-68 win over Second Baptist. #Top100Talent— TOP 100 TALENT (@Top100Talent) December 19, 2017
2018 Four-Star Northwestern commit Miller Kopp (@Miller_Kopp) had 33 points helping lead Houston Christian (TX) to a 104-65 win over HSAA in the Houston Christian Mustang Classic Tournament @BigShotsNation— Stephen Rodgers (@StevoR33) December 1, 2017
Kopp’s recruitment exploded this summer as he shined in AAU play, and he whittled his double-digit Power 5 offers down to Northwestern, Butler and Texas A&M, ultimately choosing the Wildcats in September.
The first thing that stands out about Kopp is his shooting ability. He has great-looking form and can hit threes off the catch or off the dribble. What will determine how good the 6-foot-7 wing can be is whether or not he’ll also be able to get to the rim and finish.
Our Davis Rich interviewed and did an in-depth scouting report on Kopp back in October.
Like Nance, Kopp will come in and compete for minutes at the wing spots next season. I actually think he might be more college-ready than Nance because of his body; Kopp is muscular and has the strength to defend Big Ten wings. He’ll likely serve primarily as a spot-up three-point shooter a la Nate Taphorn next season, but has the potential to grow into much more than that.
Ryan Young might not have the recruiting pedigree of the other three member of this class, but his talent should not be overlooked. Young, a 6-foot-10 big, is averaging 17 points and 12 boards per game for his 22-3 Bethlehem Catholic (PA) team, including a 33/17 explosion back in early January. He was unrated by recruiting services when he committed to Northwestern in August, but is now a solid three-star recruit.
Young seems like a very likely redshirt candidate in 2018-19, not because of his talent but because of the position he plays. With senior Dererk Pardon and junior Barret Benson available, Chris Collins won’t need a third big man. Unless Pardon or Benson gets hurt, Young can sit out the season, learn from those two, and get stronger before banging in Big Ten paints.
As far as Young’s game, he is a high-motor post player who hits the glass hard on both ends of the floor; he has double-digit rebounds in 16 of 21 games played this season. He’s shooting 65 percent on twos and has hit 10 threes this year on 26 attempts. I agree with commenter FreeWillie’s assessment that he looks like a “bigger and more fluid Skelly.” Young has a variety of moves to finish in the paint and plays with a ton of energy. Check out our full scouting report on Young here.
Bethlehem Catholic has its first playoff game tonight (Monday 2/12). Best of luck to all four of these Northwestern signees as they try for state championships.
To wrap this up, I just want to put one thing out there. The point of this article is not to say “yeah, this season sucks so let’s give up on it and look ahead to next year.” I’m looking forward to watching the last five regular season games of the 2017-18 season and can’t wait to be at Madison Square Garden for the Big Ten Tournament. Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Gavin Skelly are Northwestern legends for not just their contributions to the 2017 NCAA Tournament run, but what they’ve given this program for four-plus years.
At the same time, I can’t help but be excited about the next wave of talent entering this program. A new era is coming to a new Welsh-Ryan Arena next winter, in the form of four players who will look to elevate Northwestern basketball to even greater heights.
It’s nice to know that regardless of how this season has gone and how it will wrap up, the future is bright.