Northwestern Hoops Recruiting Notes

Some notes on the Northwestern recruiting and transfer situation.

Chris Collins thinks he can compete next year, and for good reason. His team won six games in the nation's best conference. He returns two strong and improving players in Alex Olah and Jershon Cobb. Though his freshman class will be forced into important roles, and quickly, he has space to build an even better roster for this coming season. This is where the transfer possibility comes in.

— Collins' desire to compete was made clear when he signed Jserra Catholic (Calif.) point guard Johnnie Vassar. It was an extremely late recruitment, and mainly took place during the season. Why? They liked Vassar at Reebok Camp in July, but had prioritized Bryant McIntosh—who later committed to NU (and won his second straight state championship). With Dave Sobolewski struggling, they needed guard depth, and that's how they explained it to McIntosh. Vassar projects to be the backup, though as people have pointed out, he's an excellent project.

— Vassar technically "took" Mike Turner's spot. Turner left the program before the season, and Vassar's commitment meant that all 12 scholarships were taken. Then, however, Chier Ajou and Kale Abrahamson both opted to transfer, leaving two roster vacancies for next season. They can deal with this in a number of ways, as I'll outline below.

— The first indication of their transfer interest arrived late last year. NU checked on San Diego State transfer Jamal Aytes, who eventually landed at BYU and is eligible next season. Aytes is the big-body power forward type, which makes sense given that there's no true four on the current roster. Though Nikola Cerina never made much of an impact, he did provide necessary minutes at the position last year. As the season progresses, though, the transfer market dries up. That market is in full force now.

— The best option begins with a center transfer. Collins arrived with his "four-around-one" set, and wants to play small with two point guards (or one PG and one lead guard). If NU had some center depth next season, it would be a much-improved team. The problem is finding a candidate like Jared Swopshire (generally speaking). He was someone who contributed right away in a position of need. That can be difficult to monitor and judge. If the roster stays in place for 2014-15, I'd have to imagine they'll struggle to reach the postseason.

— Still, they've already considered multiple regular transfers. The coaching staff contacted departing Cornell leading scorer Nolan Cressler, but are not currently involved. They also reportedly reached out to Butler transfer Nolan Berry, who is an ideal candidate for the team. One thing to consider: Berry would sit out the upcoming season and be a redshirt sophomore in 2015. That means he'd be in the same class as the five freshmen. (Recruits tell me Collins doesn't believe in redshirting.) Loading players into one class can be beneficial (St. John's) and then make progress unsustainable (St. John's, not the same but a fair comparison). That's not to deter Collins — he would take Berry — but it's one important note in the complicated long run.

— In the dream scenario, there would be a low-key unsigned 2014 big man. Usually, though, the remaining players are truly elite. More likely is that the Wildcats coaching staff can dedicate the majority of its time to recruiting 2015 bigs. The numbers are tough to figure out right now. Cobb and Sobolewski will graduate, but there are only eight spots taken (and Jordan Ash the ninth). If they take a regular transfer, there are two spots remaining. If they take a fifth-year senior, there are three. If there are two, expect center-power forward. If there are three, think center-power forward-best available. They're a few solid bigs (or one Henry Ellenson) away from having a balanced roster.

— I can guarantee that Bryant will start in the opener next year. I can't guarantee how well any of the first six prospects will do. I can applaud Collins for his comfort in recruiting. The McIntosh commit was pretty much done for months. The Skelly commit was done the moment NU offered. The Ash commit was done three or four weeks before the official announcement. The Vassar commit was done with a quick recruitment and one visit. Even Vic Law and Scott Lindsey were low profile, confident wins for a coach who knows the territory.

— They need a big man and have two open spots. You'd have to think that NU would take the best remaining fifth-year senior—either at power forward or center. Then, though, there is scholarship flexibility to add players on the transfer market. This doesn't even take into account the clear joy they take in recruiting. Collins wanted to rebuild quickly; there's still a great deal to be done this offseason.


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