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MAILBAG: Turn of the month

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Monday is March.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

As February ends and a week full of 40-degree days in Evanston signals a March to summer, it’s time for a mailbag. Basketball is drawing to a close, with the Northwestern men on Thursday picking up their first win in 14 tries, while the women are well-positioned to make the NCAA Tournament but have plenty of things to iron out. And of course, there’s never no football talk.

Bob Fan: Will Hunter Johnson start another game the rest of his career at NU?

Eli: This is quite the thought experiment, isn’t it? Pre-Hilinski transfer, the stage may have been set for the Hunter Johnson Revival. That’s much more in doubt, now, though Johnson certainly has a clean slate with a proper offseason and new offensive coordinator. Hilinski will be the favorite to win the job this summer but not like the shoo-in Peyton Ramsey was last year. The door isn’t shut on HJ, but it’s only ajar.

Lia: I find it pretty unlikely that HJ will earn the starting job next year. After bringing in Hilinski from the transfer portal, it’s hard to foresee them not starting him to begin the season. However, as we saw in the last rebuilding year in 2019, if Hilinski cannot meet expectations or if injuries occur, Johnson could quickly find himself in the starting lineup once more.

Tc Malik: Over/under 2.5 transfers for the men’s b-ball team after the season?

Eli: I’ll go under. I could see two transfers, just not sure I see three. The temporary transfer rules could certainly affect that, though.

Lia: Also going to say under. The team has a stellar recruiting class coming in with Casey Simmons, Julian Roper and Brooks Barnhizer and is poised for success in the near future. The Wildcats will have a lot of potential next year and beyond once they finally get through this awful schedule.

@MacStone00: After picking men’s basketball to go 5-19 this year, they started the season 6-1. I was then VICIOUSLY BERATED by the official InsideNU Twitter page. Since then, the ‘Cats are 0-13. How much of an apology do you owe me?

Eli: You owe the Inside NU community an apology for causing the Wildcats to go 1-13 in their last 14 games.

Lia: They’ve won seven games, so you’re still wrong.

@michaelmcgee: The possibility of two NU underclassmen going in the first round of the NFL draft

Eli: It is very much a possibility! Slater was a senior, and Newsome was a junior, but many mock drafts (in fact, most that I’ve seen) have both Slater and Newsome going in the first round. Draft analysts view Slater as a consensus top-15 pick and top-2 offensive lineman. Newsome could go as high as anywhere in the 20s.

Lia: I’d be shocked and very disappointed if we didn’t see those two go in the top 50.

@Johnathan_Wood1: What realistic hope do you see for men’s basketball next year?

Eli: I don’t know how different it gets next season. It’s fun that Jon Rothstein tweeted about NU next year resembling 2016-17, but it makes me question how much Northwestern basketball he’s watched since 2017. On paper, everyone will return (though it wouldn’t be shocking to see a guy or two transfer), but what changes? Player development has hardly been a strength recently aside from a few exceptions. For as hapless as the Wildcats have been, though, remember their competition. I said preseason that any improvement likely wouldn’t show up in the win-loss column, and that may well be the case. So let’s say seven to eight Big Ten wins and a top-ten finish in the conference.

Lia: I’m hopeful because of the class that’s coming in. The 2021 class made up of Casey Simmons, Julian Roper and Brooks Barnhizer ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 33rd in the nation and contains the second, eighth and ninth-best recruits in program history. Having the incoming freshman and the outgoing seniors on the same team for one season could bring the spark this team needs.