Rapolas Ivanauskas and Isiah Brown’s decisions to transfer were not all that surprising. Ivanuaskas hardly saw the floor due to injury, and Brown never quite clicked with the coaching staff in his sophomore season. It was tough to see major roles for either player going forward.
With both players gone, Northwestern’s roster construction merits a look. The Wildcats will lose five players from last season’s team, and five new players will be available next season — the four incoming freshmen and soon-to-be-eligible transfer A.J. Turner.
NU has seven scholarship returners counting Turner, meaning Chris Collins will have two scholarships available when he hits the grad-transfer market this spring. At a minimum, Collins has to land one of these transfers. If Collins completely swings and misses on his targets, the Wildcats would have 11 scholarship players and four would be freshmen. Of those 11, three (Vic Law, Aaron Falzon and Jordan Ash) will have had longterm injury histories. As it stands, the jury is still out on whether Barret Benson, Ash and Falzon can consistently contribute serious minutes on an above-average team. The bottom line is that Northwestern needs to add either a starter or a high-quality bench piece as a grad transfer.
Ideally, Collins could add a lead guard, hopefully one with some scoring punch. Jordan Lathon and Jordan Ash are the only true guards on the roster at this point, and, though Lathon is highly touted and Ash was in the rotation last season, neither are surefire starters in the Big Ten (at least not right away for Lathon).
Former Yale guard and NCAA Tournament star Makai Mason would’ve been great in that role, but he’s committed to Baylor. The only guard Northwestern is confirmed to be after is Evansville’s Ryan Taylor, but he has interest from several big names, so he seems like a longshot for NU.
Aside from being a ballhandling guard, the most important quality Northwestern should look for in a grad transfer is the ability to be a high-volume scorer. The Wildcats lose Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey who, inefficient as they were at time this past season, accounted for a significant portion of the team’s offense when they were on the court and bailed out the in a lot of games.
One of the freshmen could step up into a scoring role, but that’s tough to count on, and still might not be enough to buoy the offense without another scorer in the mix.
Grabbing a strong big would help too, but isn’t as pressing because of Dererk Pardon and Benson already being on the front line.
The other component to the two transfers is what they means for Collins. The Brown transfer hurts, but the Ivanauskas move doesn’t change things a whole lot. He had two season-ending shoulder injuries during his time in Evanston, so it was always going to be an uphill climb for him to succeed at a Big Ten level.
At any high-major school, transfers are relatively common. To be clear, the Brown and Ivanauskas transfers do not appear to be remotely similar to the Johnnie Vassar situation based on available information (though more will presumably and likely come out as time passes).
For now, the transfers open the door for Collins to add talented pieces to the roster for either next year or future ones. If Collins can snag a difference-maker in the weeks or months to come, Northwestern’s chances to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth will improve drastically.