13 November 2015

Various thoughts as 2015-16 season is set to tip-off tonight

It's high time to dust off the blog as Northwestern begins its 2015-16 men's basketball season at 7pm tonight when UMass Lowell visits The Welsh.  Kenpom ranks the River Hawks as 327th out of the 351 teams included in its statistics.  This cream puff should not only afford NU a blowout victory to start the season but also give a preview for much of what is in store this non-conference season that also includes familiar fodder from recent seasons: #326 SIU Edwardsville, #344 Chicago St., and #349 Mississippi Valley St..

Non-Conference Slate

As alluded to above the non-conference schedule is weak weak weak -- even by NU standards.  According to kenpom the schedule is comprised of one team in the top 100 (#7 UNC), joined by four more teams in the top 200 (#125 Columbia, #130 VaTech, #112 DePaul, #200 Fairfield), joined by three more teams in the top 300 (#293 New Orleans, #219 Sacred Heart, #203 Loyola MD), and the four awful teams mentioned above.  NU also has a TBD opponent from its two round tournament (UNC is first round opponent) which should be decent relative to the rest of this bleak slate.  

This non-conference slate will fatten up the W-L record and hopefully build up the confidence for the eight promising freshmen and sophomores on the active roster while allowing CCC to tinker with schemes and rotations.  But -- aside from #221 Rutgers -- it will do little to prepare NU for the rigors of the B1G slate which features six teams ranked in the top 25, four more teams in the top 100, and two more teams in the top 200.  

Future Roster Projections

With a non-conference slate that will struggle to hold our attention we have already turned our eyes to the future.  On Wednesday Northwestern announced that three individuals had signed National Letters of Intent.  The recruits include two well-regarded local prospects: C Barret Benson and W/F Rapolas Ivanauskas, and G Isiah Brown who is making waves out in the state of Washington.  On paper this is the third consecutive respectable class landed by CCC.  

The chart below projects NU rosters in future years.  The first thing to note is that NU has all 13 spots filled for next fall.  This may come as a bit of surprise given that there are 12 individuals with scholarships listed on the 2015-16 roster, three signed NLIs in the books, and three individuals whose eligibility expires at seasons's end.  
The mysterious 13th scholarship is currently held by sophomore Johnie Vassar who back in March announced his intent to transfer but has yet to pull the trigger.  It's a curious situation.  If he wants to play collegiate ball with the 5 in 4 rule the clock is ticking for Vassar who must sit out a year upon transfer but has already used a year of eligibility last year.  That said the ball is in Vassar's court so to speak as he is guaranteed four years of scholarship at NU if he so chooses.  Given that he is currently matriculated but not on the roster it is evident that he is not welcome to rejoin the team and the remainder of those four years would be spent as a normal student working towards that coveted Northwestern degree.

If it turns out Vassar holds onto his scholarship for the 2016-17 season the only significant downside we see to the program is at the Center position.  As things stand at the moment that spot will be filled by two individuals with zero collegiate experience.  This is a short run problem since -- aside from those destined for greatness in the NBA (i.e., those landed by the Kentuckys, Dukes, and Kansases of the world) -- Centers are typically slow in their development at the collegiate level.  In other words NU could really benefit from landing a fifth year transfer ala C Joey van Zegeren (who transferred to NU this year from VaTech) for 2016-17.

Of course there are possibilities other than Vassar's transfer for freeing up that 13th scholarship.  For example as a potential redshirt senior Sanjay Lumpkin might leave the program having expended all four years of his guaranteed scholarship.  Or there may be one or two who like Vassar decide to transfer for whatever reason. The 2016-17 scholarship situation bears watching, but there is much that can happen between now and next season so no reason to fret and make a mountain of a mole hill as yet.