Could 2014-15 Be The Turning Point For Northwestern?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Everything seems to be pointing in the right direction for Northwestern, but could that all change next year?

Northwestern basketball has never been a powerhouse.  In fact, it's pretty rare that Northwestern has even been a average below average team.  When a program has 5 NIT appearances in its history(!) and has only made the NIT Quarterfinals once(!), there are not exactly a lot of expectations.

Enter Chris Collins.

Earlier this week, another writer for BTPowerhouse (Nick Moyle) took a look at whether Chris Collins is the right man to turn Northwestern into a contender.  Here is a blurb of what Nick wrote:

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.

I could not agree more with Nick.  The attitude about Northwestern really has changed.  Chris Collins has finally brought Northwestern the expectations it's never had before.  Sure, Bill Carmody had a few solid years where Northwestern had a real chance to make the NCAA Tournament, but at a place where the team has never made the Big Dance, nobody can say they have ever felt good about being relevant in March.  At least until now.

Whether you buy into the Chris Collins hype or not, the fact is that the hype exists.  Maybe it's just Northwestern fans being overly optimistic.  Maybe it's just the media looking for an interesting story.  But maybe, just maybe, it's the start of something special for the Wildcats.

The signs are all there.  First, there's the performance on the court.  Northwestern's 2013-14 team was supposed to be a wreck.  Many thought they might finish winless in the Big Ten.  Instead, Northwestern not only won 6 conference games, but they improved on their overall record in Collins' first year.  Northwestern's 14-18 overall record wasn't anything to write home about, but considering the roster that Collins got in his 1st year and the strength of the Big Ten this season, that's pretty impressive, especially considering some of the wins later in the year, including a road win over Wisconsin and a win over Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, which was Northwestern's first since the 2011 season.

There's also the recruiting.  Here is a brief look at Northwestern's recent performance in recruiting:

247Sports

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

National Class Rank

92

56

107

52

31

Big Ten Class Rank

11

7

11

7

6

Commits

3

4

1

5

1

Avg Rating

.8074

.8225

.8591

.8596

.8771

(Stats from 247Sports)

Transition years are always rough, but to jump 55 spots in 1 year is pretty impressive.  Along with that, Northwestern is already off to a great start in the 2015 class.  If Collins could get even 2 years of solid to good recruiting in back-to-back years, that could create the nucleus of a good program into the future.

This brings us to 2014-15.  A program that many thought was hopeless is brimming with positive outlooks into the future.  However, the reality is that it could all slip away this season.  Collins and Northwestern have to take a step forward this year.  Even maintaining the current position of the program won't be good enough.  What many like to forget is that Bill Carmody showed positive signs in his first few seasons in Evanston too.  In just 2 seasons, Carmody had improved Northwestern's record by 7 games in the Big Ten season.  Collins has improved on Northwestern's record, but he hasn't separated too much from Carmody's early success, at least on the record books.

Collins is a good coach and has a good thing going, but he has to continue to move things forward.  If Northwestern doesn't start adding wins to their resume, all that recruiting and positivity will be for nothing.  Maybe this is too harsh of an evaluation for Year 2 of the Collins Era, but this is no ordinary program.  Northwestern takes in decent coaches and spits them out a few years later.  Collins has started to change the attitude about Northwestern basketball, but we can't overlook the fact that the Wildcats still finished 14-18 overall and 11th in the Big Ten last year.  This was a team that lost at home to DePaul and Illinois State.  In one of the worst years of basketball in the state of Illinois' history, Northwestern was still one of the weaker teams in the state.  An attitude change is nice, but it's hard to see that holding over if the team is not moving forward.  Good recruits may buy into the positivity now, but if things start going badly, who knows how long that will last.

Going from horrible to just bad happens all the time.  Heck, even snagging a few good recruits isn't all that uncommon.  Collins has shown the positive signs, but 2014-15 is the year when we finally get to see if he and this Northwestern program may be for real.  If things go well, maybe this is the start of something special.  If things stay the same, perhaps not all that much has changed in Evanston after all.  Needless to say, this year should be a turning point for Northwestern, one way or another.

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