These are exciting times in Evanston and Chicago's Big Ten team. The football team is out to a solid start (and a Top-25 ranking) while the basketball team is preparing for an historic run of their own. I'll spare ye Wildcat faithful with the usual timeline lesson that normally comes along when discussing "Northwestern" and "Basketball" as I'm sure you'll hear it plenty during gamecasts. Instead let me harp on the plan Chris Collins has in place.
The third year coach, for all he is or isn't in-game, is changing the purple tide. He's recruited (and landed) the type of players Northwestern rarely got a sniff at during the Bill Carmody era. He's realized his early struggles (the offense...yeesh) and changed/altered his ideals so that his motion based offense included some of Northwestern's historically vaunted Princeton-esque action (something his veteran players were raised in); which helped vault Northwestern's offensive efficiency from 309th in Collins first season to 94th last year. While the team defense wasn't anything to write home about last season, there is little doubt that Collins hasn't identified the problem and is working to fix the leak.
This program is right there. Right on the verge of breaking through. And while going from a sub .500 team to the NCAA Tournament might be difficult, crazier things have happened. But for any of these long awaited dreams become a reality, Collin's will need to lean heavily on his backcourt to get them there.
Tre Demps, Senior:
What a ride it has been for the senior guard. Early on, Demps was a lot like Kobe Bryant minus the results Kobe produces. Demps had a short term memory, but at times it was almost too short. He was extremely inefficient on the number of shots he took and it was often maddening how quickly he'd pull up for an ill advised, contested jumper during his first couple of seasons.
But that's all changed. On nearly the same percentage of shots taken, his eFG% took a leap last season. He was more selective. Most analytical in his approach. He found his spots on the floor (which for the most part, was anywhere on the floor during his first two seasons) and cashed in from his hot spots. If he can continue on this trend, while continuously raising his field goal percentages, he will be the stimulant, the straw, the catalyst and the motor for Collins offense.
And that's a beautiful thing. Demps is known for his propensity to be a gamer. Like I said above, he has a Kobe-mentality. He's fearless. He thinks every shot is going in. And you need guys like that on your team. But there is a giant difference between having reckless abandon and efficient discourse. And it was so nice to see a veteran player realize this. Demps will remain Northwestern's safety valve and Collins' personal "In case of emergency" weapon when both the shot and game clocks get low.
It should go without saying, but Demps is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the Big Ten, so tune in before he's gone.
Bryant McIntosh, Sophomore:
That floater... oh that floater. It's like a Greek God's teardrop. He doesn't care who's in front of him, who's behind him, who's by his side, if he gets into the lane and has the space to throw up that giant killer, he's going to do it and convert. Just look at this:
Outside of that sweet and succulent move, McIntosh is a plus ball handler and natural playmaker. He's the Wildcats floor general and will be the adhesive of this team for the next three seasons. What's so great about is that he's one of the best point guards in the Big Ten and he's only a sophomore. He's got a passion that is more than obvious on the floor and if/when Northwestern breaks through, it's going to be in big part due to him and the continuous steps he takes. He can hit his weird jumper from anywhere on the court and while he's not the most athletic player on the roster, he's extremely levelheaded and smart with his cuts/drives.
Scottie Lindsey, Sophomore:
Coming off a solid yet somewhat vanilla freshman season, Lindsey is actually on my weird list of players to watch in 2015. He's one of the most athletic players on the team who can force his way to the rim on offense and plays in your face D. When you add an entire offseason to his resume, more reps in the weight room and more time in Collins system, I can't help but expect marginally bigger things this season. Better shooting. Better defense. Better drives to the basket. And MORE OF THIS:
Jordan Ash, Freshman:
Ash was the first signee in the 2015 recruiting class for Chris Collins. He's an athletic, left handed combo guard that does a ton of damage when he has space in front of him. Like many Chicago kids, he's fearless. He doesn't care about your size, your skills or your weight. He will take his compact frame right to your chest and finish. Defensively, he's all over the place. He's got a tightly wound motor that never stops, keeping him active in passing lanes. If he gets a deflection, watch out. He's another fantastic athletic recruit for the Wildcats and I'd be shocked if he doesn't have some sort of impact this season.
Chris Collins has a fantastic and exciting unit in his backcourt and he's going to need to lean on this unit throughout the season. To be successful (and we know what I mean by that), Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh are going to have to take big individual leaps, something I believe both players can do. Add whatever additional output Lindsey can muster to the mix and another spitfire freshman in Jordan Ash and Northwestern looks potent heading into the 2015-16 season and well into the future.