Five Thoughts: Rest of NU season a wash

We tend to look too far into the end of seasons as projections for the future. Let's stop pretending: After a solid and surprising season, Northwestern's remaining schedule is meaningless.

I'm not going to get into the old storyline—the one where I pretend these last three games are of symbolic importance. Or, worse, I could insist that they'll "tell us more" about the future team. Northwestern will face Nebraska, Purdue, Penn State, and then travel to Indianapolis for at least one Big Ten Tournament game. Unlike most rebuilding teams, though, there's no opportunity to gauge success in the next couple of seasons. The Wildcats are prepared for a stunning overhaul, which leads me into five reasons why the rest of this season—sorry—is a wash.

The point guard situation changes everything. Bryant McIntosh, of course, will be the starter from day one. He's an outstanding player, and as the only person on the Northwestern beat to have seen him live, I'll insist that he's more than the "real deal." He's a high-level offensive player, who, with some defensive coaching (something this staff has already proven to be strong at) can quickly turn into an excellent Big Ten player. Johnnie Vassar will also excel in an up-tempo offense and spell McIntosh, with Dave Sobolewski unlikely to see any meaningful minutes. For now, without Jershon Cobb, Tre Demps will play out of position and man the point guard position. Though skilled and improved, he showed his obvious limitations on Saturday.

Alex Olah will have help, and that's scary good. There's one piece separating Northwestern from serious NCAA Tournament contention in 2015: Another quality big man. Alex Olah, especially in recent games, has shown his progress as a high-ceiling starting center. With help, though, he can be even more formidable. The Wildcats will—per several sources—tap into the transfer market at the end of this season. They will not stop before landing a player, likely a power forward, who can give the team an interior presence it severely lacks. Not only will this type of player help the team with his own production, Olah will likely excel and see more offensive opportunities with help alongside him. It's a winning situation for NU, which looks to have more quality long-term players than initially expected.

They're actually going to play offense next year. Forget the blue collar defensive identity NU cultivated throughout the 2013-14 season. It'll be over next year, with Collins beginning to institute his true long-term focus for the program. He's after a two point guard system (better than the current zero usable ones) and one that will push the pace at a more frequent rate. That's not to say he's ignoring the importance of tight, aggressive defense; it's simply true that he's recruiting athletes who will fit better into speedy systems. McIntosh, Vassar, Vic Law and Gavin Skelly all fit into up-tempo offensive sets—which should put them in position to see early minutes. I really like Demps even more next year, as he'll work well with McIntosh—a facilitator who can find him in the right position. The current rigid offense will be gone by the start of their summer drills.

Current guys won't have expanded roles. Usually, on rebuilding teams, you'll see younger players contributing 15 to 20 minutes before taking on major roles the following season. Not so much here. The capable players are absorbing too many minutes, with Collins only being able to use six or seven players on a regular basis. It'll be more useful when Sanjay Lumpkin can flex his defensive muscle for 25 effective minutes rather than being stretched out for 35. Meanwhile, Nate Taphorn and Kale Abrahamson—who will share minutes in the last few games—might have to fight for any sort of role on next year's team. As someone who actually watched these recruits, I can tell you that Collins is recruiting upgrades in talent. Don't doubt the program progress. It's well underway, and the influx of new recruits could leave former players more on the outside.

Oh my god depth None of this is to discredit the current roster. They're playing incredibly hard. Lumpkin, Demps, Olah and JerShon Cobb will obviously all make heavy contributions to the future roster. At the very least, though, this team will improve with even minor contributions. If guys like Skelly can ease into the Big Ten playing 10 to 12 minutes, it'll still make a major difference. It doesn't take much upgrade in terms of depth, and better, the new guys provide a stark contrast with the old ones. It's not a generalization: Collins is dead set on recruiting athletic players, and he's inherited a roster without that quality. More athletic players aren't necessarily better, but the contrast in styles could vault them to surprise wins. Perhaps one style, or type of player, will be better against a certain kind of team. With greater possibilities, Collins can begin to create another competitor in Evanston.


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