Saturday, December 19, 2015

At 10-1, Northwestern coach Chris Collins looks to build a foundation

                                   Photo Credit: Geno Green

As members of the Big Ten Conference, most fans would assume the Northwestern Wildcats have been to the NCAA Tournament at least once.

Believe it or not, Northwestern has never made an appearance in the big dance and coach Chris Collins is looking to change the blueprint this season. 

The Wildcats are off to a 10-1 start— its best since the 2011-12 season and with quality wins against Virginia Tech, Missouri and local rival DePaul, things are looking up in Evanston.

Collins admitted that preparation has played a significant part in the early success.

"I feel like our program is in a really great spot with all of the things behind the scenes," Collins said. "These guys will tell you that there is a good vibe right now about what a winning program should look like."

Even in its only loss to then No. 9 North Carolina, 80-69 on Nov. 23, Northwestern has proven that it can throw down with the major schools.

"I said coming into this season that this would be big to win non-league games and to our guys' credit, some nights we have played well and some nights we had to grind it out," Collins said.

Northwestern guard and leading scorer Tre Demps emphasized the little things Collins has instilled on the team that has led to the early success.

"I feel like we are at a great place right now and I think the small victories we had in the off-season like Navy Seals training, guys being more dedicated to getting shots up and those things add up and show on the court," Demps said. "The coaches do an amazing job of pushing us and it has been a great year so far."

In Northwestern's latest win— a 78-70 overtime at DePaul Saturday, the persistence paid off for forward Aaron Faizon as he scored his only baskets on back-to-back three-pointers in the final session after going 0-for-6 in the previous 40 minutes of play.

"If you don't play with confidence, then you should not be out there," Collins said. "Everybody has great confidence in our team with what Aaron can bring and it shows how explosive he can be. [Aaron] was not hitting the whole game and then we go to him in overtime and he hits two huge shots to give us some separation."

Like the 10-1 start in the 2011-12 season, former coach Bill Carmody and the Wildcats stumbled in Big Ten play and failed to make the field of 68. 

Collins reminds his team about fulfilling the entire journey and not going for the flash of the moment.

"The last step though is the hardest step and that is doing it on the floor, Collins said. "You can get all of the small victories behind the scenes, but then the final step is you have to get on the floor and win. It is not about one team being good, but this is a long project for me to build a program that is going to be a good for a long time and to do that, you have to build a foundation and that's what we are trying to build right now."

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