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Making sense of Northwestern men’s basketball’s transfer epidemic

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As expected, the Wildcats are losing veterans left and right. But how will it affect the program’s future?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Illinois David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Between 2012 and 2017, just two scholarship players transferred away from the Northwestern men’s basketball team. With this week’s announcements that Jordan Ash, Aaron Falzon, Barret Benson will move on from the program, that number has quadrupled over the last two seasons alone. As you have undoubtedly already heard, the Wildcats are now left with just nine scholarship players, including incoming freshmen, currently on the roster for the 2019-20 season.

Regardless of whether the aforementioned three players remained on the roster, Northwestern was going to struggle next season. Losing two of the greatest players in program history after a season in which you finished last in the Big Ten anyways will do that to you. The question now is whether these transfers will hurt Chris Collins and his staff as they attempt to move forwards into a new era of Northwestern basketball.

On the surface, the answer seems to be no. In fact, the subtraction of a few largely ineffective players seems to give younger guys a better opportunity to grow during what will be, in all likelihood, a lost season. And, after all, with the recent relative transfer boom in college basketball, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for teams to lose large chunks of their roster year in and year out.

That doesn’t mean, this recent run of transfers isn’t concerning, though. While Ash likely wouldn’t have contributed much, Benson was in line to start and log serious minutes at center. The fact that he didn’t stick around, even when he could’ve gotten real minutes, says something about the state of the program.

Collins, though his opportunities have been limited, has lacked success on the transfer market. Ryan Taylor didn’t pan out the way Wildcat fans hoped, and though expectations were low for Jeremiah Kreisberg and Joey van Zegeren, they didn’t exceed them. The jury is still out on AJ Turner, but when he was forced into a new role this season, he struggled. And with Northwestern’s struggles the last two seasons, it will be difficult for the Wildcats to attract win-now transfers over bigger names and more successful programs.

Another way to fill the open roster spots is reclassification. Even though it is the hot new trend in college basketball, Ryan Greer’s struggles this season have helped show that a prospect needs a certain level of physical readiness before they can step in and play in a major conference. That requires a level of recruit that Northwestern does not often garner, though it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

Arguably a bigger problem than struggles to fill the spots is why those spots continue to open up in the first place. Ash was a solid three star recruit, Benson was a borderline four star, and Falzon neared the top 100. Though the latter’s career was certainly hampered by injuries, none of the three became anywhere close to the player it once appeared they could become.

Ash never was able to fix his turnover issues. Benson couldn’t stop anyone defensively, though he did improve from 11th in the country in foul rate with 8.6 fouls committed per 40 minutes his sophomore year to 63rd and 6.8 this past year. (Hint: still pretty bad!)

Both guys were recruited by several major college programs. And while misses happen, Collins and Co. have now turned 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes ranked 61st and 58th in the country, respectively, into one consistent contributor (Dererk Pardon). In fact, all five of the other recruits from those classes have either transferred or are about to. Thats an issue with player development.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to seeing the recruiting class of 2019 on campus. But with just two returning players with more than a year of experience in the program (not counting Tino Malnati), there won’t be too many guys available to mentor them. And with the concerning track record of solid recruits over the last few years in the Collins era, it’s hard to be optimistic that this team’s young guys will pan out any better than the rest.

It’s still possible for Northwestern to turn things around after two straight disappointing seasons. However, if the general struggles and slowly piling up transfers don’t have you worried as a Northwestern fan, you aren’t paying attention.