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#BTPMailbag: Starting From the Bottom

Should Chris Collins have stuck to the Princeton offense at Northwestern? How can the Big Ten bring in more elite recruits? How were the league's top players regarded coming into the conference?

The Northwestern Wildcats will take it on the chin often in Chris Collins' first few seasons
The Northwestern Wildcats will take it on the chin often in Chris Collins' first few seasons
Jonathan Daniel

In this week's #BTPMailbag, we take a look at Chris Collins' approach in his first year at Northwestern and the Big Ten's past, current, and future recruiting classes. If you'd like to submit questions for next week's mailbag, you can leave them in the comments below or tweet them to @BTPowerhouse. Just be sure to use the #BTPMailbag hashtag.

Badadadadadadadada! asks, "Northwestern abandoning the Princeton offense – good idea or bad idea? It seems like it’s completely tanked them this year. Is this Collins showing potential recruits (on top of the good ones he already has coming in) that this is how things "Will be?""

Good question. While the results may be painful right now, Northwestern fans shouldn't feel any particular angst at missing the NCAA tournament. For Chris Collins to have a chance at succeeding with his players the absolute soonest, he has to begin teaching the incumbent players his concepts and how to run the sort of offense and defense to install. That way, when his first recruiting classes arrive, the current players will be able to help his recruits get a head start on learning those same concepts and plays in pick up games. And then those holdovers can help to reinforce Collins' teachings all year long. In my opinion, Collins is making the right move by moving to his system and he's doing what will allow him to play his way, with his players, the soonest. Recruits do want to see that Collins is playing the way he tells them he will, but I don't think that's the primary concern from Collins' perspective.

When Tom Crean arrived at Indiana before the 2008-9 season, he faced a similar problem. Guys like Kyle Taber, Tom Pritchard, and Verdell Jones weren't ideal players to run a dribble-drive offense with. Crean insisted on installing his system anyway. Indiana fans gnashed their teeth, with a sizable contingent maintaining that Indiana would be better off if Crean taught a motion offense until he got his players and then teaching his dribble-drive offense. Instead, Crean stuck with his plan and as the roster began to fill with more of his players, guys like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford, the time those first players spent learning how to run the dribble-drive in game action helped the younger players. At this point, I doubt any Indiana fan would retrospectively make the same criticism that Crean should've taught his first teams at Indiana a motion offense instead, knowing that Verdell Jones, Matt Roth, and Tom Pritchard would take on leadership roles for Tom's future recruits and help to bring them along in Indiana's system. When Cody Zeller arrived, those players were available to help bring him along, rather than learning a new system alongside him.

Northwestern will likely see a similar progression after a few rough seasons. Dave Sobolewski may not be Collins' ideal point guard, but teaching Dave his system is going to pay dividends for Collins down the line. If Collins continues to elevate Northwestern's recruiting with players like Victor Law, Northwestern will make the NCAA tournament before Collins' career is over.

Badadadadadadadada! also asked, "How does the B1G position itself better for elite talent? Even MSU lost out on some great recruits. Does the expansion help? Have our "blueblood" teams lost their status?"

Let me answer your last question first: no. Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State still have elite status in the world of recruiting. Michigan State has struggled on the recruiting trail lately, relative to their history under Tom Izzo at least, but the Michigan Wolverines have picked up the slack and the Big Ten as a whole collects plenty of elite talent. In this year's class, for example, the Big Ten pulled in 3 recruiting classes ranked in the top 20 nationally, as it did in 2012. As of now, the Big Ten has 3 programs bringing in top 20 classes in 2014 as well.

Still, there is something to what you're pointing out. While the Big Ten pulls in plenty of top 50 or top 30 players, the conference doesn't bring in as many top 10 players as conferences like the SEC and the ACC have managed. Between the 2012, 2013, and 2014 classes, the Big Ten did not lure a single top 10 player. Noah Vonleh was ranked 11th in the 247 Sports Composite rankings which is as close as the Big Ten has gotten to cracking into the top 10.

But how can it be fixed? The first answer is facilities. Since the Big Ten Network began writing checks to Big Ten members, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern, at least, have either built, renovated, or committed to improve their basketball practice facilities and arenas. For Indiana and Michigan, these investments have already resulted in improved recruiting. Indiana has landed in the top 20 of the national recruiting rankings since Cook Hall was completed. Nebraska hasn't capitalized on its new facilities quite as much, but they have helped the Huskers at least bend the ear of top recruits like Jahlil Oakafor. Eventually, they should land one of them.

Finally, the Big Ten has had trouble placing players in the NBA - at least relative to the ACC and SEC. The Big Ten had a reputation as a conference of great players that largely didn't make the jump to the pros. That kept the most talented players in the country out of the Big Ten, which created a negative feedback loop that hurt the conference's reputation. That may be changing, though. Last year the Big Ten had 3 players selected in the top 10 of the 2013 NBA Draft. In the 2015 class, Big Ten schools are in play for several top 10 and top 30 players and may finally break through in terms of grabbing the most elite and NBA-ready players.

StewMonkey13 asked, "How about how where current top players in the league started as recruits. Maybe some teams do a better job at identifying under the radar recruits, or develop players better."

The Big Ten has enjoyed some remarkable success stories, especially lately. Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo recently rose from lightly-recruited 3-star prospects to top 10 draft picks. Aaron Craft may not have an NBA future, but he has become one of the nation's most noteable players after an unheralded arrival at Ohio State. Draymond Green wasn't considered a player with an NBA future when he arrived in East Lansing, but has become a contributor for the Golden State Warriors. Roy Devyn Marble came to Iowa as a 3-star recruit and has become one of the top players in the conference.

Developing players like these are integral to long term success, Draymond and Trey won the last two Player of the Year awards in the conference after all. The 4 winners preceeding those two, however, were highly ranked prospects coming into their respective programs. And guys like Jared Sullinger and Cody Zeller may have experienced some negative bias in the voting as the award has typically been awarded to upperclassmen. Point being, the Big Ten's best players have been its most highly rated recruits more often than not.

Some programs have done a better job of identifying and developing under the radar recruits than others. Wisconsin recruits a bit better than most people give them credit for, but Bo Ryan has consistently developed raw 3-star and 4-star players into productive and sometimes extremely productive upperclassmen. Jordan Taylor, for example, wasn't a hugely contested recruit but became an indispensable player for Bo and one of the best players in the nation. Tom Crean famously developed Dwyane Wade and now Victor Oladipo from lightly regarded players to top picks. And John Beilein has placed 3 3-star guards in the NBA in Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, and Darius Morris. But all of those programs also had talent with which to surround those developing players, which may be the key. Even programs that have shown they can develop players at a high level need to bring in talent to compete in this league.


That's all for this week. Remember, if you'd like to submit questions for next week's mailbag you can leave them in the comments below or tweet them to @BTPowerhouse - just be sure to use the #BTPMailbag hashtag.