Collins braces for first major challenge

Against an old friend, Collins searches for his first big win.

"The butterflies were turning a little bit," Chris Collins said of his debut — a 72-55 win against Eastern Illinois.

He'll miss having the entire family in attendance for Thursday's Stanford game, but won't miss out on familiar faces.

In his first legit challenge, Collins will face "close friend" and Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, whom he worked with on the Duke coaching staff for several years.

"Johnny's been really close to me for a long time," Collins said. "He's a really close friend."

In Collins' collegiate playing days, Dawkins was in the NBA. Every offseason, Dawkins would return to scrimmage and mentor the current team, which led to the beginning of his strong relationship with Collins.

Now, in two wildly different circumstances, the two are competing on Thursday night in Palo Alto. Dawkins' experienced team looks to crack the NCAA Tournament and restore hope in the program. Collins, meanwhile, could certainly use an impressive road win to start his tenure in Evanston.

Against Eastern Illinois, NU struggled with offensive rhythm and consistency. After establishing Drew Crawford–who went off for 25 points–they failed to establish a secondary option. That could prove costly against the Cardinal, which looked vulnerable in allowing 112 points to BYU on Monday night.

"I don't know if we're going to be capable of throwing up 112," Collins said. "… It'll be a tough game, especially with them coming off of a loss."

The Wildcats encounter another clear size deficit — which should be common this season. But, as Collins pointed out, Stanford relies more on pure skill, with power forward Dwight Powell priding himself on a finesse game. Rather than planting bulky bodies inside, they rely on the purer form of the game.

Even then, Collins defended the Cardinal after an egregious defensive performance. He attributed it to the new foul rules, which encourage freedom of movement and, you could say, discourage actual defense.

"They're calling more fouls," Collins said. "And the players have to adjust and I think that's one of the reasons we're getting these high scoring games."

Whether the score ends up in fifties or eighties, Collins–as the road underdog–can secure his first major victory.

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