Only six players of the 2014-15 Northwestern Wildcat roster were on campus this spring. Three players graduated and another three transferred last season. Five freshmen and one senior transfer will join NU for 2014-15, so come fall, Chris Collins will have just as many first-years as he does returning players.
Collins' first season at Northwestern was interesting to say the least. The Wildcats got off to a rocky start, barely escaping the non-conference schedule above .500, but they rebounded quickly, finding themselves fourth in the Big Ten in early February. The season crumbled from there as NU went on a seven-game losing streak and finished a mediocre 14-19.
Losing Drew Crawford, one of the best players in school history, is going to hurt, but perhaps the best recruit in NU history, Vic Law, is ready to fill in. And an array of other freshmen are excited to help NU's developed core energize Welsh-Ryan. Here's an early look at the 2014-15 Northwestern depth chart:
It's a near certainty that there is going to be a lot of fluctuation in the Northwestern backcourt this year. The starting point guard is totally up for grabs at this point. Senior Dave Sobolewski struggled in 2013-14, averaging just 5.0 points and 2.4 assists in 21.4 minutes per game. Sobo's sour start to the season only got worse when he received a concussion in mid-January.
Sobolewski remains the favorite to start at the point though. JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps proved to be viable options to handle the rock at times, but they certainly are not long-term possibilities at point guard. Three-star recruits Bryant McIntosh and Johnnie Vassar will compete with Sobolewski for the starting spot. McIntosh, a combo guard able to play the wing or point, has a good jump shot and likes to run the break. Vassar is an uber-quick 6-foot guard able to get up and throw down some sick dunks. It's anyone's guess who is starting at point next March. Most likely Sobolewski will own the spot on opening day, but if he doesn't return to his ways of 2012, McIntosh or Vassar will snatch the spot from him.
The wing spots are not nearly as complicated. In all likelihood, senior JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law will start in the other guard spots, although Law is more of a small forward. Cobb averaged 12.2 points per game last season and had some big outings, dropping 20+ four times. Injuries to his knee and foot sidelined Cobb for the last six games of 2013-14 however. Law, a four-star recruit from St. Rita High School in Chicago, is extremely athletic and fits the up-tempo style Collins is hoping to integrate at NU. Cobb and Law will be responsible for the bulk of NU's scoring in 2014-15.
Depth won't be nearly as big issue as it was last season for Collins. While Cobb and Sobolewski were out with injuries, Collins often played with essentially six or seven guys. Even at the end of the season, only seven guys averaged more than 11 minutes per game. In 2014-15, McIntosh and Vassar should both be legitimate options off the bench, if they aren't starting. Tre Demps improved immensely last season, becoming NU's go-to guy in the clutch and third-leading scorer. Plus, three-star recruit Scottie Lindsey possesses a silky three-point shot and will likely see some solid minutes off the bench.
Alex Olah and Sanjay Lumpkin are going to be staples of the Northwestern frontcourt in 2014-15. Olah is becoming one of the premiere big men in the Big Ten. He drastically improved his offensive efficiency last season, raising his shooting percentage from 41.5 to 50.9 percent and his free throw percentage from 58.3 to 68.0 percent. Olah developed a nice little hook shot and a few post moves that led to the progress in the paint.
Lumpkin has plenty left to be desired offensively, averaging just 3.8 points per game last season. However, his defensive mentality and strength is indispensable for NU. Lumpking is arguably Northwestern's best defender in the post and on the perimeter. He also averages nearly as many rebounds as Olah (5.2 to 4.8 per game) despite the size difference. Lumpkin and Olah should definitely start to open the season and will stay there unless a newcomer really impresses Collins.
Senior transfer Jeremiah Kreisberg is going to Collins first forward off the bench. Kreisberg did not play in 2013-14 after undergoing back surgery, but he averaged 7.7 points and 5.1 points per game for Yale in 2011-12. His 6'10", 240 pound frame makes him much bigger than any other Wildcat, with the exception of Olah. His size will be extremely valuable in Big Ten play.
Sophomore Nathan Taphorn and three-star recruit Gavin Skelly will round out the Northwestern bench. Taphorn saw his minutes decline significantly during conference play in his freshman season, but he showed he knock down the three-pointer and battle on the boards when called upon. Skelly is a bit bigger than Taphorn at 6'8" and 215 pounds. If he quickly develops into a legit post player with rebounding prowess, Skelly could split minutes with Lumpkin at the four. It would be surprising to see that in his freshman season, so expect Lumpkin and Olah to carry the load down low.
Collins will be rotating in a lot of raw freshmen this season, which makes predicting a starting lineup very difficult at this point. The depth chart should look something like this in November:
PG: Dave Sobolewski, Bryant McIntosh, Johnnie Vassar
SG: JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps, Scottie Lindsey
SF: Vic Law, Tre Demps
PF: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn, Gavin Skelly
C: Alex Olah, Jeremiah Kreisberg
Northwestern's success in 2014-15 will depend heavily on how quickly the newcomers can develop and gel into Collins' system. Law, McIntosh and Kreisberg will all have vital roles on this team. The continued progress of the returnees may be just as important though. NU really needs Lumpkin to contribute on offense and Olah to become a dominant post. If all the pieces come together, the 'Cats are going to be a competitor in the Big Ten. If not, Collins' rebuild project simply goes on in 2014-15.