Eastern Illinois (0-0, 0-0) at Northwestern (0-0, 0-0)
8:30 PM EST
Line: Northwestern -13.5
Series Record: Northwestern 1-0
Last Meeting: Northwestern 87-72 (2011)
Blog Representation: Sippin' On Purple
Northwestern officially kicks off the Chris Collins era tonight on BTN against in-state opponent Eastern Illinois. The game will be the second matchup in the series, with a John Shurna led Wildcats beating Eastern Illinois by 15 back in 2011.
By now everyone more or less knows the script on Northwestern. The basketball program has been historically bad. Like really, really, really bad to the point where they had three seasons with winning records from 1969 until Bill Carmody showed up. Carmody was able to finally help turn the program turn around, posting winning seasons in four of his last five seasons in Evanston. It still wasn't enough to save his job though. While seemingly harsh for a program that has never been to the NCAA Tournament, the athletic department finally had enough of close calls and seasons falling just south of expectations.
Enter Chris Collins, a long term assistant at Duke and the son of NBA coach Doug Collins. The young hire's first coaching gig will be a tough one, but Collins seems ready for the role. Knowing how poor Northwestern has been throughout it's history, Collins realizes the challenges he'll face in Evanston. However, he plans on rebuilding the program from the ground up and changing the culture. Even though the Chicago area has had a tendency to shun the local colleges, it does provide a major source of talent for recruiting.
Collins intends to build a winner from the ground up. Already he has shown some progress in recruiting with a strong four recruit 2014 class, including four star Chicago forward Victor Law. However, while the Wildcats are looking to be a better program in the future, there's still this season to be played. While the team looks to be over matched compared to most of the conference, Collins will greatly benefit from the return of senior Drew Crawford, the team's best player before falling to an injury early last year and derailing their 2012-13 season.
So the Wildcats season officially begins tonight against Eastern Illinois. Out of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Eastern Illinois Panthers have struggled as of late, only winning 32 games the last three seasons. The team will also have to deal with the dismissal of last years leading scorer Morris Woods, who added 11 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. The team will return the next three leading scorers in Josh Piper, Sherman Blanford and Alex Austin. The Panthers will need all the scoring they can get as they finished last season 315th in the nation in points per game.
Eastern Illinois is also heavy on transfers, with nine of the teams 18 players originally starting their collegiate careers elsewhere. Thanks to an immediate waiver for Luke Piotrowski, the Panthers will feature a tall frontcourt with brothers Luke and Mat measuring in at 6'11 and 7'2.
The Wildcats will look to turn to Drew Crawford in his return to the Wildcats starting lineup. Collins is also likely looking for sophomore center Alex Olah to increase his contributions after Olah posted 6.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last year. Also expect quite a bit of action from Dave Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire. The Wildcats will also welcome back JerShon Cobb back to the lineup, who is coming off of a 12 point performance in the Wildcats second exhibition game.
The Wildcats struggled with scoring last season, finishing outside of the top 300. It probably should be no surprise then that the team shot poorly from the field, from deep and from the free throw line. The team also struggled on the glass and will need to see Olah improve down low.
Northwestern's opener is an easily winnable game but if they want to take care of business they'll need to see improvement in their shooting. The Panthers, while bad the last several seasons, return most of their scoring options and have a roster heavy on new faces. Regardless, Northwestern has enough returning talent that they should be fully capable of taking care of business.