Good Cat, Bad Cat: Northwestern Basketball

Our weekly football stock report comes over to the hardwood. The first edition of Good Cat, Bad Cat for Northwestern hoops.

We're bringing our two-year-old Northwestern stock report to Welsh-Ryan and the basketball team. "Good Cat, Bad Cat" tracks the risers and fallers surrounding NU basketball—with special mention of coaches, recruits and miscellaneous others.

GOOD CATS

2014 Recruits. This should not be ignored. Every one of Northwestern's five commits made progress during the current season—their senior year. Most notable is Johnnie Vassar, the JSerra Catholic HS (Calif.) product who's gaining rave reviews for his play out west. He's a good-not-great recruit who needs to complement his athleticism with a more well-rounded and focused game. He's certainly getting there. Meanwhile, Gavin Skelly became the leading scorer in Westlake High School history, still earning my label as one of the Big Ten's most underrated recruits. Bryant McIntosh continues to become a point guard who can either score first or pass first, leading his Greensburg HS (Ind.) team to great success this year.

2015 Recruits. I keep teasing this: Northwestern's likely to lock up a 2015 hoops commit, and soon. The Wildcats might beat the football team this year, with one key focus quietly nearing a pledge to NU. The first verbal commitment should fly through in the next couple of weeks, with another major boost probably coming to Northwestern's backcourt. Regardless, one overarching point is that this season helped in terms of recruiting. The midseason run hinted at NU's ceiling under Chris Collins, and better, the struggles proved that any solid recruit can contribute to this team in the near future. With only one or two scholarship available (after the first commit), we're looking at a season in which Collins can gun for the big names.

Jershon Cobb's brilliant season. Cobb, underwhelming for much of his career, became an excellent second scoring option this year. His defense has always been surprisingly strong, but the offense progressed in nearly every department. Save for the fact that he needs to reach the free throw line more often, Cobb established a strong midrange game and improved his outside shot. He's entering to major expectations next year—and we have no doubt he can start to reach those and propel the team to a postseason berth.

Brian James. He's not the youngest of the three assistants. He's not the one with the best future prospects. But, still, Brian James has earned deserved praise from everyone around the program for his work with NU. It culminated with Alex Olah giving James a shout-out for James' work in improving his game. Despite some justified—and not all infrequent—criticisms of this coaching staff, they've done an overall excellent job in player development and in expanding individual skillsets. James has played a major role in this—another excellent addition to a staff maturely assembled by Chris Collins.

BAD CATS

Nate Taphorn. He's still arguably the most disappointing player on the team. Before the year, there were rumors of his dominance in the practice setting. Teddy Greenstein and I both reported similar things: He was lighting it up and fighting for the fifth starting spot. Apparently, he was, until the last minute with Sanjay Lumpkin. Lumpkin earned the starting spot and established himself as a passable defense-first "power forward." Taphorn's done next to nothing this year, with his defense well behind Kale Abrahamson's and his shot creation ability entirely lacking. With the type of talent arriving next year, I'm not sure whether Taphorn has the all-around game to ever truly carve out a role on this roster.

Three-point shooting. On that note: Holy, do they need a shooter. They've been awful from behind the arc this season, whether they get open looks or not. Taphorn and Abrahamson, their three-point specialists, are helping little in that department. Despite some improvement from Cobb and passable shooting from Demps, the Wildcats have too often disappeared. It's the opposite of recent teams, who stayed in games by hitting everything. Next year, guys who can shoot should be preferred when Collins sets his nine- or 10-man rotation. Also, expect Bryant McIntosh to attempt a steady dose of triples next year. He's an excellent shooter, and better, he can keep defenses honest with his quickness and slashing ability.

Nikola Cerina. This offseason, NU will look to secure a power forward transfer. Its recent history hasn't been so promising. Jared Swopshire was an unquestioned disappointment for most of last year, with Nikola Cerina failing to set expectations for himself very high. After producing some numbers at TCU, Cerina arrived at NU and never quite meshed with the team. He found himself in the doghouse of both Bill Carmody and Chris Collins—a nearly impossible feat—and then hurt his team's chances of winning against Indiana by picking up a suspension the game before. Collins could, really, only look to one capable big man all year. If Cerina had panned out at NU, the Wildcats would likely have picked up at least one or two more wins.


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