Northwestern coach Chris Collins welcomes back six of his top seven scorers and anticipates approaching the heights of the Wildcats’ 2017 NCAA Tournament team.
New Eastern Illinois boss Marty Simmons lost nine players to the transfer portal, so the former Evansville head coach and Clemson support staffer finds himself guiding a mostly new roster from all levels of the game and from all over the map.
Collins and Simmons will get their first official feedback on their respective trajectories when the Panthers travel to Evanston, Ill., on Tuesday to meet the Wildcats in both teams’ 2021-22 opener.
Northwestern will be driven by the same core from the past two seasons: fourth-year center Pete Nance, third-year guard Ryan Young, third-year point guard Boo Buie and third-year forward Robbie Beran.
Last season, shooting guard Chase Audige (the team’s top scorer at 12.3 points per game) and Ty Berry joined the rotation as Northwestern jumped went 6-13 in the Big Ten after going 3-17 in conference play the prior year.
This season, though the Wildcats lost three-year starting forward Miller Kopp to Indiana, Collins anticipates his guys will add three or four more Big Ten wins as they incorporate Fairleigh Dickinson graduate transfer Elyjah Williams (13.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Top 150 freshmen Casey Simmons, Julian Roper II and Brooks Barnhizer into their plans.
“We feel like our roster is in a good spot,” Collins said. “Our camaraderie, our chemistry, our spirit — all those things to me are at a winning level right now. Now, can our play be at a winning level? That’s the next step.”
Simmons, a legendary figure in downstate Illinois for his remarkable prep career at Lawrenceville High School as well as his college years as a player and coach at Evansville (not far from the Illinois-Indiana border), appears to be the perfect fit for Eastern Illinois.
The trick is to fit all of the Panthers’ disparate pieces together. Sixth-year forward Sammy Friday IV (8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is the only returning starter. Simmons has three Division I transfers — Illinois center Jermaine Hamlin, Nebraska guard Elijah Wood and Central Connecticut State guard Myles Baker — among the nine newcomers ready to claim big roles.
“I think we have a lot of players who can play multiple positions from an offensive standpoint and have the ability to guard multiple positions from a defensive standpoint,” Simmons said.
–Field Level Media