Chris Collins' first season at Northwestern was a positive one, but he wants to do better.
Heading into Year 2, there are a lot of change for the Wildcats — half the roster is newcomers — but already, in July, Collins thinks this team can do more than last year's team, the one that pulled off some shocking Big Ten upsets, including road wins at Wisconsin and Indiana.
The biggest difference? Versatility.
"We have a lot more versatility. We have more options to have different kinds of lineups," Collins told NUSports.com's Skip Myslenski. "Last year we kind of were who we were. So it was hard, in the course of a game, we didn't have the ability to go to a big lineup, or a speed lineup, or a power lineup. It's nice to have enough players to have different kinds of lineups on the floor."
"We've already seen a big difference in the competitiveness in our practice sessions," he added. "When you don't have many bodies, what ends up happening is, the guys who play heavy minutes, they don't have people pushing them for their spots. So it's nice. We have 12 guys on scholarship and all 12 are talented players and they're all competing. They're pushing each other, making each other better because they all want to play."
[MORE BIG TEN: Pitino vs. Pitino: Gophers, Louisville close to hoops series]
Collins won 14 games in his first year in Evanston, led by the efforts of second all-time leading scorer Drew Crawford and reserve scoring-machine Tre Demps. While those guys played great — Demps is back and will likely be counted on to lead the team offensively — Collins had the unavoidable first-year-coach problem of playing without his own recruits. That changes this season, as five of the six newcomers are freshmen recruited by Collins and his staff.
The most impressive of that bunch has to be St. Rita product Vic Law, who was ranked just outside the top 100 recruits in the country by Rivals. It's the caliber of recruit Northwestern doesn't typically land, but Collins brought him in and brought big expectations with him. The head coach likes what he's seen so far.
"He's one of those guys who gets a lot done, a multi-stat guy," Collins said. "He may not throw up 25 points. But he might have 10, 12 points, seven, eight rebounds, five or six assists, some steals, some blocks."
[MORE BIG TEN: What if Big Ten schools were professional soccer teams?]
With all the newcomers, there will be challenges. Collins has refused to put a number on how many wins he think would constitute a successful season. Right now, it's about getting his players to work as a team.
"While were striving to win — and we'll try to win every game we play this year — it's still going to be a process with a bunch of new guys," Collins said. "We're going to have to figure out who we are, create an identity with this group. But staying patient is tough. I think all coaches would say that because your competitiveness and your instincts are to want to compete at the highest level right away. But sometimes you have to build in order to get to that point.
"I think we're on track. We've just got to keep pushing."