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Northwestern looking ahead to solid recruiting class after tough season

Wildcats disappointed, still excited

Minnesota Gophers forward Jordan Murphy (3) muscles his through the Northwestern Wildcats defense in the first half on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
Minnesota Gophers forward Jordan Murphy (3) muscles his through the Northwestern Wildcats defense in the first half on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Decades from now, will anyone remember Northwestern’s 2017-18 season? When the players return to campus to be feted and the video montage ends with the dog-pile celebration after the win over Michigan at the “old” Welsh-Ryan Arena, will fans even recall the inglorious follow-up?

Oh, yeah, that was the season they played at Amazon Fieldhouse, out by O’Hare. Wait, what was it called back then? Right, Allstate Arena.

Only hardcore fans will remember how this season ended, with seven straight losses, late-game ineptitude against Penn State at Madison Square Garden, and Bryant McIntosh tearing up while answering questions on the podium.

Later, in the locker room, McIntosh beamed as he thought more about the good times and what’s next for him.

“I hope to continue to play,” he said. “See where the ball takes me.”

McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and Gavin Skelly formed the greatest recruiting class in NU history. But McIntosh believes – hopes, actually – that they will lose that distinction.

“They’re better than our class,” he said of the group bound for campus in a few months. “It’s the best class we’ve put together, and I’m really proud of it.

“We’ve allowed this program to make a jump. We’re excited to see what they do with it.”

NU basketball is about to look very different. And given the need to hit the reset button on the program, that is a very good thing.

“The lesson from the
season is dealing with adversity,” Lindsey said. “We didn’t deal with it right for most of the season, and toward the end we figured out how hard we had to work. We lost a sense of the blue-collar work ethic we had last year. At the beginning of the season, we played like we’d arrived. By the time we figured out we hadn’t, it was a little too late.”

Northwestern is pouring $110 million into Welsh-Ryan Arena, shrinking capacity to 7,039 seats by replacing bleachers with chair-backs, adding amenities and, presumably, replacing the Cold War-era restroom sinks.

Demand has been so high for season tickets, which the school has capped at 4,000, that there’s a waiting list.

McIntosh said he wishes he could play one more game in a Wildcats uniform, joking that Law and Dererk Pardon have squabbled over who will get the first shot in the new arena.

Law and Pardon will form the nucleus of the 2018-19 team, two proud veterans who have combined to play nearly 2,800 minutes for NU.

Also returning is Barret Benson, shooter Aaron Falzon and backup point guard Jordan Ash.

Anthony Gaines looked like a legitimate Big Ten player down the stretch, saying, “The game slowed down, my reads were better, I got more confidence, and the guys encouraged me to take my shots.”

As for Isiah Brown, who got benched midseason, his future is up in the air.

But the Wildcats also expect four new rotation players – one transfer from Boston College, and three freshmen all ranked between 83rd and 109th on the national composite list.

Most important will be point guard Jordan Lathon, whom Collins described as “super-athletic.”

Collins called forward Pete Nance “long, skilled and athletic,” and Miller Kopp “a rugged wing who can shoot the [heck] out of it.”

McIntosh, who has played with Nance and Kopp, said: “Pete is going to be unreal … his length, his athleticism. Miller, he’s a baller. As history evolves, it will go down as the best class in Northwestern history. Due to what we accomplished, they aren’t there yet. But they can get here.

Closing thoughts:

Said McIntosh: “It’s human nature that when you get success, you want more. Some of that was individually, and it changes the whole dynamic of the team. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s just reality. Now that we got set back, the main thing again will be winning. When you win, everybody gets theirs. It’s a good life lesson.”

Both plan to play pro ball. Does McIntosh think he has a shot at the NBA?

“It would have to be the perfect fit,” he replied. “I’m not going to be a starting point guard, more than likely. That’s just reality. But I do believe in myself and the fact that I could be a T.J. McConnell or a Matthew Dellavedova. A guy who can come off the bench and just be solid, a guy who can help teams win.”

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