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Chris Collins owns this Northwestern program

Last year Chris Collins inherited a basketball program. In Year 2, after only one exhibition game, this Northwestern team looks more like one he has created.

Northwestern beat McKendree 102-52 in an exhibition game at Welsh-Ryan Arena Wednesday, a score that hardly gives any indication as to the kind of success offensive success the Wildcats may have this season. McKendree is a Division II team.

What was more telling than the huge number the Wildcats put up was their balance—a product of depth and athleticism that this year’s five-man freshman class brings to the program.

Two of those freshman, forward Vic Law and point guard Bryant McIntosh, started. Law finished with ten points, McIntosh with 15 points and 11 assists.

But it was Northwestern’s ability to distribute, the direct product of having multiple scoring threats, that Collins celebrated. This after Collins watched his Wildcats struggle mightily on offense in Year 1. Wednesday the Wildcats had 31 assists on 41 fields goals.

When he got the job, Collins promised to play an up-tempo style that featured multiple guys with the ability to handle the ball and create off the dribble. That’s exactly what was on display Wednesday.

“This is a team where we have multiple guys who can score the basketball,” Collins said. “We have a lot of shooters. We have a good inside presence.

“We’re going to be one of these teams where on a different day you’re going to have a different leading scorer.”

Northwestern’s offensive outburst—the Wildcats shot 71.9 percent from the field—likely overshadowed the fact that this is a developing team. A program that relies so heavily on young players is bound to go through slumps. Collins promised as much postgame when he said his freshman will struggle at times.

But what is less likely to slump is their athleticism. Because it features more scoring threats, Northwestern used more side-to-side passing. That won’t just pay dividends on the offensive end, either.

“When you can shoot and score it allows your defense a little bit more margin for error and that’s what we didn’t have last year,” Collins said.

As much as the freshmen are heralded and as big a role as they’ll play, Northwestern will be guided by the consistency of its veterans. Tre Demps and JerShon will be the Wildcats go-to guys down the stretch.

But neither is afraid or too proud to defer to a freshman who might have the hot hand. It will be up to them gauge when they need to assert themselves more as scorers.

“We’re a lot deeper,” Cobb, a senior, said. “Any given night, anybody can lead us in scoring. It can be a young guy, it can be a vet. We’re so deep that I think most of the games we’re going to be pretty much even across the board.”

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen