Men’s Basketball: Are the Wildcats moving in the right direction?

Jesse Kramer and Alex Putterman

Men’s Basketball

What has Collins really done?

Jesse Kramer: There has been plenty 0f optimism at Northwestern since Chris Collins took over as head coach in 2013.

In some ways, NU is improving under Collins. In other ways, not so much.

The Cats’ current Kenpom ranking is No. 121. Last year, they finished No. 131. The year before that they finished No. 132 under former coach Bill Carmody.

NU was dealt a difficult Big Ten slate just like last year, but through seven games the team’s conference record is worse. Last year, the Cats were 3-4. This year they are 1-6.

This team is one of the youngest in Division I, but it’s not much younger than last year’s squad, which came out on the winning side in several close Big Ten games.

Three Big Ten teams — Purdue, Michigan and Indiana — are younger than NU, and they all have winning records in Big Ten play.

The narrative is when this Cats group is more experienced in a year or two, these close losses can turn into wins. But that’s hope, not fact.

NU’s last five losses have come by an average of 3.4 points with one going into overtime, but they are still losses.

Near-wins don’t build a program. If they did, Carmody would still be running the show.

Collins possesses the blueprint of a successful coach. He grew up in the household of successful NBA coach Doug Collins and learned under one of the best basketball minds ever in Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He is also super competitive and passionate about making NU a winning program.

In theory, Collins should get this program moving in the right direction.

However, his 24-29 record through nearly two seasons at NU is nothing special. That does not mean Collins is the wrong guy for the job, but it also shows he is not necessarily the right guy.

Everything about the program under Collins shows the potential for upward movement between his pedigree, this team’s ability to compete and a few nice pickups on the recruiting trail.

But the actual results are not there.

This season hasn’t clouded the future

Alex Putterman: NU was never going to be judged in 2014-15 by wins and losses, not with five scholarship freshmen and no serious postseason hopes.

So the team’s current six-game losing streak has no bearing on whether the season is deemed successful.

Instead, the Wildcats should be measured on how their performance this season sets up for future achievement. And given the play of the team’s young players the future doesn’t look any dimmer than it did before the season.

In fact, most of the players who will be around to see that future have performed reasonably well. If the biggest question entering the season was how the young guys would play, consider that answered.

Freshman guard Bryant McIntosh has exceeded all expectations for his rookie season, leading the team in points and assists per game while shooting a respectable 44 percent. He needs to improve his defense and cut down on turnovers before truly reaching stardom, but his play has been NU’s most promising development by far.

Sophomore forward Sanjay Lumpkin has seen perhaps a huge year-to-year jump, averaging 6.3 points on 58 percent shooting while playing sturdy defense. Sophomore forward Nathan Taphorn had also flashed vast improvements over last year before a recent injury. Freshman wing Scottie Lindsey has been a pleasant surprise, and freshman forward Gavin Skelly has contributed at times as well. Even forward Vic Law, the freshman who arrived with the highest expectations of all but hasn’t quite met them, is far from a lost cause.

Meanwhile, the most disappointing players on NU’s roster are the ones who won’t be around for long. Senior guard JerShon Cobb has vastly underachieved, largely thanks to a persistent foot injury, and fellow senior Dave Sobolewski has provided very little. Those players have contributed substantially to the Cats’ struggles but have no impact on the team’s future.

This season hasn’t been pleasant overall, but if we evaluate only the players who are expected to contribute going forward, NU’s situation doesn’t look so bad after all.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Jesse_Kramer

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @AlexPutt02