As tip-off to the 2017 NCAA Tournament draws closer, we look at some of the top storylines and how those teams were built through recruiting.
Today: Northwestern, which is making its first NCAA Tournament. How did fourth-year coach Chris Collins construct the foundation for this success in Evanston?
STEP ONE: BUILDING THE CORE
Collins' first full recruiting class in Evanston has proven to be critical in the program's rise. The Wildcats inked five prospects in 2014, and all but guard Johnnie Vassar (transfer) remain with the program. Gavin Skelly, who was primarily recruited by MAC programs, has more than lived up to expectations. But it is the foundation of Scottie Lindsey, Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law that have led to Northwestern's transformation.
Ranked as a three-star prospect out of high school, Lindsey is the Wildcats’ leading scorer this year averaging over 14 points, four rebounds and two assists per game. Northwestern beat out quality programs such as Vanderbilt, Nevada and Iowa for Lindsey, but not many expected Lindsey to evolve into what he is today. While Collins and his staff have nabbed a few Rivals150 talents since their initial class, finding an under-the-radar gem like Lindsey significantly helped jump-start the program.
While Lindsey was a nice add, keeping some of the more highly lauded Chicago-area talent home was a game-changer for Northwestern. The addition of Law, a former four-star prospect, signified change was on the horizon.
"I really think Northwestern is on the rise," Law said to WildcatReport.com following his commitment. "They're one player away, and I hope I can be that piece."
If Law wasn’t that one piece, then McIntosh was. The Greensburg, Ind., product was originally committed to Indiana State, but opened his recruitment prior to his senior year of high school. Programs such as Iowa, Purdue, Xavier, Dayton and a slew of others came calling but he bought into the vision that Collins was selling at Northwestern.
"I think coach Collins has a vision for not only me, but the entire basketball program as a whole," McIntosh told WildcatReport.com following his commitment. "He has made me a believer in it."
STEP TWO: ROLE PLAYERS
The 2014 trio of Law, Lindsey and McIntosh lead Northwestern in scoring, but the contributions of the team's role players should not be overlooked when discussing the Wildcats' season. Seniors Nate Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin combine to score 10.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while freshmen Isiah Brown and Barrett Benson have brought a variety of dimensions to the court.
STEP THREE: THE X-FACTOR
Sophomore Derek Pardon has been an X-factor for Northwestern in the post. Just as he was during the majority of his high school career playing alongside former five-star Carlton Bragg, Pardon is the type of junkyard dog that any coach would love to have. He is averaging better than eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks, and has made more than 60 percent of his shots from the field during his two-year stint as a Wildcat.