"He's going to be good," everyone tells me. Coaches and analysts alike are optimistic about Alex Olah. After his uneven freshman year, the starting center looks to round out his game. With some improvements, many peg him to be Chris Collins' finest long-term asset on the current roster. That would make this team interesting.
Olah's growing hype certainly benefits the coaching staff. They need to recruit at several positions and can tighten their focus with no pressing need at center. Because Bill Carmody oddly signed two centers to his final class–a very questionable decision–it would be difficult to justify adding another for the class of 2014. Thankfully, Olah can hold down the position.
Laying the groundwork
As of two weeks ago, Collins had not seriously implemented any brand new sets. The staff appears to be in the process of evaluating its current personnel and figuring out how it can most effectively recruit. The team, at least to me, looks very far from NCAA Tournament contention. There are some basic ways, though, that it can help the "rebuild" process with this roster.
I'm not alone in expecting that Drew Crawford will be forcefully featured this season. Collins wants to show prospective elite recruits that they can fill stat sheets and stand out in his (relatively speaking) up-tempo system. Also, don't count out Nate Taphorn, who's expected to play and contribute immediately.
Focus on recruiting defense
When talking to just about any serious NU basketball recruit, several themes emerge, the most important of which is the Wildcats' emphasis on defense. They want to sign guys who can shut down all-conference players, probably understanding the current roster doesn't really hold many shutdown players.
I'm not sure when everyone got the idea that Jershon Cobb was an elite defender. He's decent, but this team will suffer on that end in Year One of the Collins era. Watching some of these guys, I get the impression that this staff will only pursue above-average defensive players. I'd bet that on more than one occasion, players have been ruled out of offers for failing to meet that standard.
Last week, Tyler Ulis was not expected to play on the AAU circuit. But on Saturday and Sunday, he changed his mind and participated despite his shoulder injury—which appears to be recurring. I doubt it's any coincidence that Tom Izzo was in attendance for that tournament. The general perception is that Ulis wants to attend Michigan State.
Here's where Northwestern can slide in: They might be more into it. MSU continues to recruit five-star point guard Tyus Jones, and may not even accept a commitment from Ulis at this moment. The Wildcats coaching staff arguably made Ulis their top priority. (That's not even close to ruling out other guard options, who they clearly value.) Regardless, with Ulis picking up more offers and hearing from more schools, I'm skeptical that NU can sign everyone's favorite target. For the moment, we'll call it unlikely.
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