With the hiring of Chris Collins as the new head basketball coach, the program takes a positive step in reaching that elusive goal: The school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
While former Northwestern coach Bill Carmody took the program from non-existent to respectable in his 13 years in Evanston, there is no secret it's Collins' turn -- and job -- to raise the bar and finally get over that doggone hump. When it's never been done in the history of a program, it's maybe more than just getting over a hump or hurdle. Maybe it's more mountainous.
Really, when that day happens and Northwestern hears its name called one of these years on Selection Sunday, everything else will have taken care of itself.
With that NCAA invite, interest in the program, both internally and externally, will have been raised -- as well as the expectations. The individual talent level will have risen. Welsh-Ryan Arena won't seem nearly as insufficient as it does now. Recruiting doors will be opened like they've never been. And athletic director Jim Phillips will know he hired the right man on April 2, 2013.
The CIty/Suburban Hoops Report, as it indicated in a blog last month, really believes Northwestern basketball has its man -- the right man. When you consider every aspect that went into finding and hiring the right coach, including the best and realistic fit at this particular time, Collins was an easy choice, the correct choice, the best choice.
There is no doubt Carmody, who did things no other Northwestern basketball coach had ever done before, provided basketball stability to a program that badly needed it. Because of Carmody, this is not the dreadful, woebegone, dead-end job it was when Carmody took over, or when Kevin O'Neill was hired or Ricky Byrdsong or Bill Foster or Rich Falk or ...
NU hoops is still a very difficult job with a lot of work ahead for Collins and the staff he assembles (Here is one vote for doing all Collins can to keep NU associate head coach Tavaras Hardy on staff). But thanks to Carmody and the work Hardy has done, Collins doesn't have to be an absolute miracle worker.
While Collins lacks one key element for any head coach in a high-major conference -- head coaching experience -- he brings so many other valuable attributes and ingredients Northwestern basketball has been lacking.
Collins is the anti-Carmody, really. He brings elements, including a youthful energy and enthusiasm, a recruiting presence, a passion for recruiting, a certain type of personality, an ability to really relate to the student-athlete and, maybe most important, he simply provides some pizzazz and a buzz that Carmody just didn't possess.
There is no question that alone will go a long way in creating excitement for the program in the short term and energize recruiting. There have been some players in recent years in the Chicago area and around Illinois that fit the Northwestern profile but didn't give NU the time of day or feel "it" when being recruited by Carmody.
Players like Rock Island's Chasson Randle (Stanford), Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith (Ohio State), Mundelein's Ben Brust (Wisconsin) and Proviso East's Sterling Brown (signed with SMU) are a few that come to mind. Would NU have been in a better position to close the deal on those players with a Chris Collins in charge? The Hoops Report believes so.
You better believe prospects, particularly those that fit the Northwestern profile and have the desire to play in the Big Ten while obtaining an elite education, will pick the phone up for Collins and keep the door open longer.
No one knows yet if Collins can coach a lick -- at least not as a head coach, with all that goes into the job. The road straight from assistant to head coach at the high-major level certainly isn't the perfect or most-traveled blueprint.
Since 1995 only three other Big Ten programs have hired first-year head coaches. Penn State's Jerry Dunn and Indiana's Mike Davis were ultimately fired, while Michigan State's Tom Izzo became a coaching icon. Former Duke assistants who took high-major jobs without any college head coaching experience either failed (Quin Snyder at Missouri) or are struggling (Johnny Dawkins at Stanford).
But hiring an "assistant" with the pedigree he has (he's the son of legendary Doug Collins), having served the ultimate apprenticeship (coaching under Mike Krzyzewski for 13 seasons) and with the comfort level and connection he has to the Chicagoland area, just feels different. Maybe that's unfair or a little presumptuous. But you do feel more comfortable sliding this particular assistant into the head coaching chair of a college basketball program in a high-major conference.
And for who and what Northwestern basketball is right now as a program, the 1992 Mr. Basketball winner from Glenbrook North is the ideal fit for the Wildcats. It just makes so much sense.
The most popular topic of conversation and common question I've received from basketball fans, high school coaches, AAU coaches, NU graduates, college coaches, the wife and anyone with a basketball pulse over the past 72 hours is, "Do you think Chris Collins can get it done?"
And by that, what they really mean is, "Do you think Chris Collins will get Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament?"
Just one man's prediction here, but put me in the emphatic "Yes" category.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport