Well that didn't go as planned. Fresh off the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, and Tournament win, the Wildcats brought back virtually everyone. The only real loss of note was Sanjay Lumpkin, a defensive specialist that was very much an offensive bystander.
If he was the difference between 24-12 and 15-17, Player of the Year voters really whiffed. In truth, everyone just kind of got worse. Bryant McIntosh went from an All-Conference performer to a very inaccurate volume shooter. Scottie Lindsey shot the ball just fine, but his turnovers ticked up while his defense slid. Gavin Skelly went from defensive specialist to just a tryhard.
The defensive losses really hurt Northwestern. Pardon was still blocking shots, but there did not seem to be any other means by which the Wildcats could terminate possessions effectively.
Usually there's a flow to these previews. I'll write about a bunch of good stuff, and then offer a But..., or explain all the terrible things that just happened but offer a However.... No such transitions are incoming. The Wildcats were bad last year and lose Lindsey, McIntosh, Skelly and sophomore Isiah Brown. Brown was a wild shooter, but he was the rare player on the roster with potential to create his own shot. There was upside. Now, the offense falls to Vic Law, supported by Dererk Pardon (who has never shown a willingness to hunt his own shots) and Aaron Falzon (a once-heralded recruit who has turned himself into an extremely poor man's version of Christian Watford).
The ray of hope with the freshmen is Pete Nance, a top-100 forward that steps on campus this fall. Yes, he is Larry Nance Sr.'s son. Nance's other son, Larry Nance Jr., who is now in the NBA, went to Wyoming. That was not because he was some huge fan of the Cowboys, it was because those were the types of programs in pursuit of him.
(As an aside, I do not understand how these former NBA All-Star's sons keep getting underrated. Nance, Hardaway Jr., Curry—OK, Dell never made an All-Star team but he was good, Jerian Grant...you would think there's a tendency to overrate these players.)
Maybe it will be the same with Pete, that he'll turn out even better than his No. 86 ranking would lead you to believe. There's also wing Miller Kopp and a couple of other freshmen, but Nance is the real prize.
Also inbound is transfer AJ Turner, from Boston College (a popular poaching ground). Turner is a taller (6-7) combo guard, but definitely falls into the category of "role player." The Wildcats are also hoping for a leap from sophomore Anthony Gaines, but his usage last season was an eye-watering 13.4 percent of team possessions.
But the real transfer prize is Ryan Taylor, the 5th-year from Evansville. Taylor is the antithesis of virtually every returning player I've mentioned so far—he's decidedly not a role player, and thus precisely what the Wildcats need. He actually led the country in shot percentage (not to be confused with shooting percentage) last year. In conference play, he attempted 42 percent of Evansville's shots while he was on the floor, which was "almost all of the time." In total, he attempted 343 shots in an 18-game conference season. In the same amount of games, Ethan Happ attempted 266. That's how obscene Taylor's chucking was.
Given what returns for Northwestern, I do not expect Taylor to defer all that much as he moves up a level or two from the Missouri Valley. And that's really the ballgame—can Taylor still be a lethal outside shooter and an effective volume shooter in the Big Ten? Can he do that when defenses might only be paying attention to him and Law?
Sadly, even of answers to those questions are a resounding "yes," that probably only brings the Wildcats' offense up to par, There's still the defense to worry about.
Does Sanjay Lumpkin have any relatives with eligibility?