Needless to say, Northwestern is far from basketball folklore. In its 114 year history, the Wildcats program has rare approached the brink of relevance in the world that is college basketball, having failed to make the NCAA tournament even once in its Division 1 history. But to many, those days are gone.
Sure, Chris Collins enters his third year as head coach with the hope of guiding NU to the promised land. But what else has changed? Why should there be hope that Northwestern will finally make their first Big Dance? Without further ado, here are the five biggest reasons why Northwestern is about to crash March Madness.
1. The Future has Arrived
Before the arrival of Collins, Northwestern's recruiting prospects were fairly bleak. Previous head coach Bill Carmody rarely was able to latch anything more than a three-star out of high school, thus giving the Cats limited talent to work with. However, the tides are turning.
For the first time in program history, Northwestern is bringing in four-star recruits in back to back years. In 2014, that was versatile small forward Vic Law. This year, its Aaron Falzon, an athletic 6-8 forward that can shoot and run the floor. This not to forget guard Bryant McIntosh, who is coming off a very strong freshman season and is ready to take over full responsibilities running the point. This program has never had such a promising crop of youngsters, and they're gonna make it count.
2. The Olah Factor
Its difficult not to love Alex Olah. Underrated by pretty much everybody coming out of high school after moving to the U.S. from Romania, Olah scooped up his one and only Division 1 scholarship offer from the Cats in 2012. Since then, he has done nothing but improve. Through his first three years, Olah has bumped his PPG from 6.1 to 9.1 to 11.7. This not to mention his rebound total has close to doubled since his first year with NU.
Olah is important for a couple reasons, the first being his big body. At seven feet, 270lbs, there are not a lot of other guys that can outmuscle him in the post. This is a key asset for the Cats, especially when setting screens at the top of the key and working the ball in the paint. Secondly, Olah brings an element of leadership to the Wildcats program. The most senior player to the team, the center is ready to be more vocal on and off the court. With graduated point guard Dave Sobolewski now gone, Olah must take on the role of leading from within. This guy is a dark horse and has the skill and potential to be one of the premier big men in the Big Ten.
3. Chris Collins is ready for the B1G stage
Prior to accepting the head coaching job at Northwestern in 2013, Chris Collins experienced his fair share of personal success. In 2010, he captured a national championship as an assistant coach at Duke, serving under the legendary Coach K. Collins, a former Mr. Basketball Illinois and Duke player himself, also knows what it takes to compete at the highest level. He was a four year starter for the Blue Devils and was a key contributor during his tenure in Durham.
This type of experience bodes very well for the Wildcats going forward. His coaching kept Northwestern in many games last year, including ones that nearly resulted in major upsets. This season, at least one or more is destined to happen. The Big Ten schedule is never easy, but with some of their "purple magic", nothing is ever too far out of reach.
4. Quality wins are plentiful
With the Big Ten projected to be extremely strong this coming season, the fourteen teams are bound to experience some major "conference cannibalism". With one good team beating up on the next, the Wildcats are going to have the opportunity to take down some major competition this winter. As demonstrated by last season's victories over Indiana and Michigan, as well as their many near-upsets, this team is not to be taken lightly. Also, with the #33 recruiting class in the nation according to 247sports.com, the youthful talent is very much there for the Cats to make a run at some of these more formidable opponents. Who says Tre Demps can't take on guys like Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. or Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig? The opportunity is there for the taking.
5. Why not the Wildcats?
Its the question that many Northwestern fans ask. Why not the Wildcats? The Big Ten is comprised of many major state schools, whether it be a Michigan, an Ohio State or an Illinois, yet Northwestern is much smaller. However, Northwestern lacks something a lot of other schools don't: something to lose. There's no doubt many teams in the conference will be feeling the pressure this year, especially with the lofty expectations that many experts have placed on them already. Not much is expected out of the Wildcats, and that's just how they like it. Also, who doesn't love a good underdog? NU is sure to have the fan support on their side.
What do you think? Are the Wildcats ready to enter the NCAA tournament? Comment down below your thoughts and predictions for this coming season of Northwestern basketball.