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2014-15 Northwestern Preview: The Wings

Chris Collins' first big Chicago recruiting win highlights the Wildcats' wing group...but is there any other talent on hand?

Northwestern's Sanjay Lumpkin tries out the "Messi Defense" against Indiana.
Northwestern's Sanjay Lumpkin tries out the "Messi Defense" against Indiana.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten as a whole struggles to keep solid Chicago players from wandering off to the NBA assembly lines at Duke or Kentucky, so what chance does perennial doormat Northwestern have with the local talent? With Duke alumnus/Northbrook native Chris Collins as head coach, the Cats' odds aren't quite as good as Crocodile Dundee's chances of getting out with his jacket on, but they're getting better all the time.

Freshman Vic Law is the highest-rated recruit the Wildcats have been able to suit up since landing center Evan Eschmeyer in 1993, and he's that rare newcomer that makes Northwestern supporters momentarily stop banging their heads against their desks, bemoaning the school's oft-ridiculed NCAA tournament drought (86 years and counting...sorry, Cats fans). Former Northwestern stars Michael "Juice" Thompson, John Shurna and Drew Crawford, for all their production, still couldn't shake the big purple monkey, and Law will need help to do so this season.

Josh Stern wrote about Northwestern's backcourt here, including top returning scorers JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps. Now, who's there to help Law attack from the wing?

The Starters

Vic Law (6'7", 185 lbs., Fr.)

If not for Chris Collins, Law would probably be at VCU right now, at least according to the profile that SI's Luke Winn wrote in the wake of Law's commitment to become a Wildcat. Collins wooed the St. Rita HS star by comparing his role to what Duke did with former star Gerald Henderson, allowing him to slash and shoot with abandona far cry from ex-coach Bill Carmody's "we'll get back to you" approach. If Collins is true to his word on Law's value to the offense, the touted rookie should carve his name in stone on the conference's All-Freshman team early on.

Law has the ability to be a versatile scorer, an effective rebounder and passer, and an omnipresent defender. His quickness, length and leaping ability will make him a handful for opposing rebounders and ballhandlers. Tre Demps summed Law up thusly to CSN Chicago:

"The thing I see with him is he’s mature and he has all the tools. He can shoot the 3 ball, he can get to the rim, he can create, he can handle the ball with his size and his length. He has like a 7-1 wingspan or something like that. So he has all the tools, I think, of being a big-time player in this league and I think in the future, hopefully a big-time player in the NBA."

Yeah, he'll start for this team. Leading the Wildcats in multiple categories, perhaps everything save scoring? Highly possible.

Sanjay Lumpkin (6'6", 220 lbs., Soph.)

More than anyone, it was Lumpkin who embodied Northwestern's effort in the conference season. He wasn't terribly effective offensively, but he pulled out some stunning hustle plays and helped lead the Cats to wins they had no business attaining. Lumpkin ripped 25 rebounds and seven steals in a three-game span that included stunning road wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota, plus a narrow four-point loss to Nebraska. In those games, he also amassed nine points, 11 turnovers and missed 10 of 14 shots from the floor. Needless to say, the more shooters Collins can recruit to let Lumpkin charge the rim and collect on offensive rebounds, the better.

And that does need to be Lumpkin's role, not simply drifting to the corner and looking for a shot that every opponent will gladly let him take. He can be one of the Big Ten's most effective rebounders and defenders without ever firing up a jumper. Any improvement that he can make on last season's 36.8 FG% (26.5% from three) will be gratefully accepted, but he can fill a similar niche for the Wildcats to past Big Ten defensive aces like Chris Kramer at Purdue or Mike Kelley at Wisconsin. The biggest key for Lumpkin's improvement this year will be avoiding foul trouble. He was disqualified from nine games last season.

Without a truly dominant power forward on the roster, the Law-Lumpkin pair looks like the best front line Northwestern can trot out, and it can be one that makes life miserable for opposing offenses. Collins should start the season, though, by implementing a pushup penalty every time Lumpkin shoots, similar to Willie Mays Hayes after popping the ball up in Major League.

The Bench

Scottie Lindsey (6'5", 175 lbs., Fr.)

Lindsey's much more geared to the backcourt, but he'll find minutes hard to come by there with Cobb, Demps, Dave Sobolewski and fellow frosh Johnnie Vassar and Bryant McIntosh battling for time. If he sees playing time this season, it'll likely be due to injury or widespread foul trouble. When he does get in the game, he could stroke a couple of catch-and-shoot bombs and call it a night, so don't blink.

Nathan Taphorn (6'7", 215 lbs., Soph.)

Speaking of catch-and-shoot threes, have you met Nate Taphorn? This is what he does. 54 of his 67 shots as a freshman were from behind the arc, and he made only 27.8% of them. The extra 10 or so pounds of muscle Taphorn put on in the offseason may be the only thing keeping his minutes safe from the newcomer Lindsey. It'll be up to Taphorn to flare his nostrils and attack the glass, whether as a ballhandler, cutter or rebounder, since his experience and physical maturity are the main strengths he brings to the table. If he's content to simply drift around the arc, Collins will be content to simply let him wave towels.