Key Departures: Miller Kopp (–>Indiana); Anthony Gaines (–>Siena)
New In Town: Casey Simmons (#99); Julian Roper (#147); Brooks Barnhizer (#149)
State of the Program:
I often think of the Chris Collins tenure in a negative way, especially after the collapse of 2018 a season after their historic NCAA tournament win. Most programs would not still employ Collins, but when you’re a program that had zero NCAA tournament appearances, let alone wins, the leash is much longer, especially for the guy who did bring you your 1st tournament win. Still, the years after have been disappointing considering the momentum that was thought to be taking place, as they’ve gone sub-.500 both in conference and overall all 4 years after that tournament appearance and win. They did compete well a year ago, and actually entered the top-25 rankings before losing 13 straight Conference games. It was a brutal schedule and a young team that hopefully, for Collins’ sake, can continue to build on the 6 Conference wins from a year ago. They return 6 of the 9 regular rotation guys, including 4 starters from a year ago, headlined by leading scorer Chase Audige (JR). Other returning starter are Pete Nance (SR), Boo Buie (JR), and Robbie Beran (JR) alongside role players Ryan Young (JR) and Ty Berry (SO). This group did make some strides a year ago, especially defensively as they transformed from 150th to 37th in defensive efficiency. Expectations should be higher as Collins’ seat begins to heat up the farther away he gets from his last successful season.
Coming to campus is a pretty nice Freshman class that has a chance to have an impact for the program. Leading the group is 6’5” G Casey Simmons (#99) who enters the program as the 2nd highest rated recruit in 247 sports’ recorded history. He’s not a one-and-done blue chip prospect by any means but his length and athleticism give him a high ceiling, especially for a guy who already shows a natural ability to score the basketball. He should also hold up defensively, and earn plenty of minutes off the bench in year 1. The next member of this class is 6’3” CG Julian Roper (#147). His being undersized for a 2 guard is likely part of his lower ranking, but his handles and playmaking ability at all 3 levels should help him to become a lethal weapon down the road for the Wildcats. The final Freshman coming to town is 6’6” wing Brooks Barnhizer (#149). Barnhizer is not the most athletic, but his height and shot make him a compelling prospect, he will need to get stronger and quicker, but has the skills to make an impact on this program. He will be able to battle for backup minutes off the bench.
Collins has a real chance to build on an improved season a year ago. Getting 4 starters back allows for them to remain cohesive and build on their steps forward from last season. Audige, Nance and Buie all showed flashes offensively and if they can gain some consistency in their play that will be huge for Northwestern in taking a step forward. Losing Kopp hurts the ceiling, but with only Nance being a Senior and one of the better classes in school history coming in this is a huge building block year for Collins. A very young team from a year ago gets a little older, and if they continue the defensive strides and expand their offensive abilities they should be even more competitive than a year ago. There are several programs on the decline in the Big Ten this year, Northwestern should not be one of them. Simmons and Roper are promising prospects and most of the team should be coming back in ’22-23, so Collins should be building towards a tournament run again here soon. 6 of the top 9 recruits at Northwester since 2000 will be on this roster, only Nance is a Senior. If 2023 ends in another below .500 season there is no way Collins should remain the HC at Northwestern. They should absolutely win 7 or 8 Conference games at minimum this season and anything less should have Collins feeling very nervous about his future as the HC. I don’t anticipate a surprise tournament appearance this season, but certainly watch for Northwestern as a home dog to upset some teams and you may even see me dropping some cash on them a few times in that scenario.