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Making sense of Northwestern’s backcourt situation

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There has been a lot of change in the Wildcats’ backcourt.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in a while, Northwestern heads into the season without a great sense of who will play point guard. For pretty much the past three seasons, Bryant McIntosh gave Chris Collins a stalwart to run the offense and a coach on the floor. The offense centered around McIntosh’s playmaking and passing with heavy doses of pick-and-rolls involving B-Mac, especially in late-clock situations.

When the 2017-2018 season ended, we knew Northwestern would have to move on from the legend that is McIntosh. But the way the transition has transpired has been...eventful. Here’s a rundown of everything that has happened in the backcourt since last season ended.

  • Isiah Brown, who appeared promising as a freshman but got off to a poor start as a sophomore after an injury, opted to transfer to Grand Canyon after playing only sparingly in his second year.
  • Jordan Ash, the only remaining point guard on the roster, missed the entire spring with a leg injury after undergoing surgery.
  • Evanville guard Ryan Taylor, a 21-plus point-per-game scorer, chose Northwestern over a host of suitors, including Miami, Indiana and Oregon. Though not a point guard, Taylor’s scoring was much-needed for NU.
  • Northwestern went hard after South Dakota grad transfer Matt Mooney, who would’ve provided a strong playmaking option at the one. After including Northwestern in his final three, he choose to play at Texas Tech.
  • Jordan Lathon, a 6-foot-4 point guard who was supposed to be Northwestern’s PG of the future, had his admission to Northwestern revoked by the school.
  • Just days after it was reported that Lathon would not attend Northwestern, 2019 prospect Ryan Greer chose to reclassify to the 2018 class and join the Wildcats in the summer ahead of the 2018-2019 school year and season.

Okay. That’s a lot of movement and change in the backcourt — change Northwestern hasn’t really dealt with the past few years. Here’s some analysis on what has transpired this offseason, and what I envision happening next season.

A net positive on the grad transfer market

Missing out on Matt Mooney was certainly a disappointment. But, given the massive production hole Northwestern was set to have without McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, getting Ryan Taylor was important. When Jeff Goodman originally tweeted out Taylor’s long and impressive list of suitors, Taylor seemed like a longshot. To get him was a big, big deal.

Taylor primarily played off the ball at Evansville, and I imagine he’ll play in a similar role for NU. Taylor is used to shooting a lot...like, an absurd amount — he took 40.7 percent of his team’s shots a season ago, the highest mark in the entire nation. His usage rate of 31.2 was 28th in the country. At Northwestern, he’ll have fewer isolation opportunities and more shots coming from the flow of the offense, which should help his efficiency, assuming he can adjust to his new role. We’ll still see him in isolation sets, especially at the end of the shot clock where his ability to hit contested shots will come in handy, but he’ll have to prove he can facilitate at a high level for the ball to be in his hands possession after possession.

From Lathon to Greer

Last Friday, when Inside NU reported that Jordan Lathon had his acceptance revoked from Northwestern, Northwestern’s point guard situation looked dire. Clearly, Chris Collins thought it was urgent enough to go after 2019 point guard Ryan Greer as a 2018 recruit. Greer, who had previously had an offer from Collins, is obviously young, but, given the situation NU was in, he was a key addition.

According to MaxPreps.com, Greer averaged 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his junior year. He shot 49 percent from three on 81 attempts, and his assist-to-turnover rate was nearly 2:1. Rated as a three-star by 247, he hasn’t gotten a ton of major conference recruiting action, but he surely would have received more if he had remained in the 2019 class and posted an impressive summer. To be clear, it’s not as if Collins got desperate and offered Greer. Greer already had the NU offer, at least for 2019. Listed at 6-foot-2, he has good enough size to be a Big Ten point guard. He may not be a plus-athlete, but that isn’t necessarily a requirement to run a team. Even as a young freshman, Greer should see minutes because of the lack of point guard depth on the roster. He might not be as ready as Lathon would’ve been, and trying hard to keep Isiah Brown around might’ve been a decent option. But, for how late in the game the Lathon situation transpired, Collins was running out of options, and Greer provided a nice one.

Jordan Ash with a deserved opportunity

Ash, a rising senior, has patently waited his turn at Northwestern. A seldom-used reserve in his first two seasons, Ash received a significant bump in minutes as a junior (from 3.8 to 12.7), where he proved a capable defender and ball handler for stretches off the bench. He wasn’t a creator offensively, but he also wasn’t asked to be. Next season, I imagine he won’t be either, at least not in the same way Bryant McIntosh was. But, if Ash can consistently hit open shots and show an ability to attack off the dribble in any way in extended minutes (which he should get next season), Northwestern should be just fine.

It’s tough that Ash had to miss the spring after undergoing surgery, but, if he has a strong summer, he could sneak into the starting lineup. Even if he’s one of the first players off the bench, which is probably his floor as far as the rotation next season, his role will be the most important of his career. For a player who has worked hard and acted admirably during his time in Evanston, his time might have finally come.

A new-look offense

Chris Collins has proven himself to be a coach who tailors his schemes to his personnel, and not the other way around. So, with a guard like B-Mac, we saw a lot of pick-and-rolls. But next season, with a host of long, athletic wings and no options as solid as McIntosh at the point, the offense will be different.

There should be a lot of motion-heavy sets, where multiple players are responsible for making plays from the wing. Anthony Gaines, Ryan Taylor, Vic Law, A.J. Turner, Aaron Falzon and Miller Kopp will all have to take on some playmaking duties, even if they aren’t true point guards. If I were to guess, Gaines and Law will both bring the ball up a fair amount, and the offense will run from there. In some ways, this new style should be a positive. Having multiple playmakers and a more diverse offense could be tougher to scheme against. There are several interesting lineups where Northwestern could switch 1-4 on defense and pose four shooters around Dererk Pardon on offense. But, there will also be times where there is no true point guard on the floor, which could preclude the team from getting into its sets and dealing with pressure.

The point is, there will be a lot of new faces next season, and bunch of familiar faces in new roles. Both are good things in various respects, but both come with uncertainty.