Northwestern basketball: over a century of ineptitude morosely displayed on hardwood.
NU is Harvard plopped down in the middle of Illinois -- except with a far worse basketball team. Northwestern is a producer of Nobel laureates, not professional basketball players. That's unlikely to change regardless of who runs the show.
Not one of the 109 purple-clad teams Northwestern has trotted out has received an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have been climbing the same mountain since 1904, and they wake up every single year right back at base camp.
Chris Collins is the latest the lead the expedition, taking over this season after 13 years of Bill Carmody. Carmody led the Wildcats to their first 20-win season and four straight NIT appearances, but he never got where it mattered, and that was all that mattered to NU at the end of the day.
Collins is descended from Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski's coaching tree. Collins helped continue to build the nearly unmatched tradition of Duke basketball, but also played an important role in the resurgence of USA Basketball as a scout and assistant coach. His background and pedigree alone should garner respect from fans and recruits alike. A coach with this much clout at NU is unheard of.
Collins' inaugural season actually started out rather well, especially by Northwestern standards. The Wildcats sat at 5-5 in Big Ten play and 12-11 overall on February 1, with wins over #23 Illinois and #14 Wisconsin. The well of prosperity dried up pretty quickly after that, and the Cats reverted back to form, losing seven of their last eight. They managed to surprise Iowa in round one of the B1G Tournament, but bowed out to Michigan State in the second round.
In his first season at the helm, Collins led NU to a 14-19 record, going 6-12 in the B1G and finishing eleventh overall. It wasn't a transformational season, but again this is Northwestern and progress is measured a little differently here.
Collins' true success will be measured by his ability to lure prized prospects from Chicago and the rest of the Midwest to Evanston. In that regard, the new coach is off to a fast start.
Collins hauled in five recruits for the coming season, four 3-stars and a 4-star. More importantly, that four-star recruit, Victor Law, is from Chicago. If Collins can show the ability to consistently tap into Chicago's seemingly infinite stock of high school talent on a yearly basis, this program could take off much sooner than expected.
With the 52nd ranked recruiting class in the nation, Collins has assembled the richest collection of freshman talent Evanston has seen in years. With the expansion of the B1G deeper into the East Coast, Collins' coastal routes should further help his recruiting efforts on that side of the country.
Is Collins the man to finally lead the Wildcats out of the desert? No one can say for sure, it all depends on how his recruits pan out and if he sticks around long enough to develop his system properly. But, Collins appears to be bringing a new athletic legitimacy to a once severely hapless Northwestern program that might, within a few years, find itself finally peel back that invitation to the Big Dance.
If that magical scenario happens to play out, well, let's just say he might not be sticking to the purple tie for much longer.