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Losing out on Matt Mooney leaves Northwestern thin at point guard

Matt Mooney’s commitment to Texas Tech means Northwestern will only have two point guards on its roster.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Highly-coveted grad transfer Matt Mooney committed to Texas Tech Monday afternoon, choosing the Red Raiders over Creighton and Northwestern. Chris Collins, given the graduation of Bryant McIntosh and the transfer of Isiah Brown, really could’ve used Mooney at point guard alongside grad-transfer Ryan Taylor. Collins will now have to work with inexperience and unknowns at point guard.

Mooney’s commitment means Jordan Lathon will likely see starters minutes (or close to it) in the 2018-2019 season. Increased minutes at this juncture should bode well for his development as Northwestern’s point guard of the foreseeable future, as it did for Bryant McIntosh in 2014-2015.

More immediately, however, Mooney’s commitment means Northwestern has a massive hole at a crucial position. That’s not to say that his commitment would have created a Big Ten favorite in Evanston, but it would’ve given the Wildcats depth and experience at every position, and more firepower offensively.

Mooney could have acted as a mentor for Lathon, one of four freshman in the heralded 2018 recruiting class. Miller Kopp will have a plethora of veterans wings to rely on and learn from. So will Pete Nance and Ryan Young. Outside of Jordan Ash’s tutelage, Lathon will be forced to learn on the fly — in important minutes during pivotal Big Ten games.

Ash and Lathon will be the only two point guards on Northwestern’s roster next year, and neither is proven, especially as a pass first, floor general type point guard. Lathon is a 6’4 combo guard, while Ash has played off the ball throughout his career.

Ryan Taylor’s April commitment means Chris Collins will be long on wings next year, in addition to bolstering an offense that limped through last season. Anthony Gaines, Miller Kopp, Vic Law, Pete Nance, Taylor and a now-eligible AJ Turner represent a rangy, versatile group of position-less swingmen.

Gaines is a slasher, and will see some minutes at the one. He needs to improve his distributing and decision-making, but he will almost certainly play point guard minutes. Law, Nance and Taylor are capable of creating their own shot and shooting it from deep, and the offense could very well run through all them. Turner and Kopp, at this stage of his career, are pure shooters.

Collins now has the personel, with the additions Kopp, Taylor and Turner, to deploy switch-heavy defenses capable of suffocating Big Ten perimeter foes. There is no reason why he shouldn’t roll out these lengthy versatile lineups. Northwestern is thin at point guard and has talent on the wings. The four-shooter, one ball-handler model has proven to be successful throughout basketball.

Omari Spellman, Villanova’s center, shot 43% from 3 last year — and his ability to stroke it from deep as was a huge reason why Jay Wright’s offense was so dominant throughout the NCAA tournament. Nearly 40% of Villanova’s field goal attempts were threes last year. The result? An offense that scored 127.3 points per 100 possessions, more than five points better than the second most efficient offense, Purdue.

Derek Pardon protects the rim, acts as Northwestern’s vocal leader and is widely regarded to be Northwestern’s most valuable player. Whenever Dererk Pardon sits, however, Collins should emulate the Villanova, four-out model; surround Lathon and Gaines, Northwestern’s likely ball handlers next year, with shooters. Both are slashers by trait — neither is reliable from beyond-the-arc — and without Matt Mooney’s services, both will play big minutes next year.

Ultimately, not getting Mooney means Chris Collins will have to roll the dice at point guard, and rely on some switch-heavy positionless lineups. The development of Gaines and Ash will be of the utmost importance next season, especially in playmaking roles. Rather than the dribble-heavy, B-Mac-heavy offense we’re accustomed to seeing, Collins will hopefully implement a Spurs-esque offense by surrounding Lathon and Gaines with long, rangy marksmen. The roster is made up of such players.

Deploying this type of lineup is entertaining to watch and, given versatile wings inherent advantages over big men and smaller guards, it has proven to be successful across all levels of basketball.