Are Northwestern's recent basketball departures a big deal?
It's fitting given how the season went, but there hasn't been any good news on the Northwestern basketball front this offseason. They've lost two veteran players and their best recruiter in the month since the season ended.
There are over 1,200 players in the transfer portal right now, though, so Northwestern isn't alone in having key players move on. Even Big Ten teams who made the tournament, like Illinois, Michigan State, Rutgers and Wisconsin, have had major contributors enter the portal.
It's never good to lose two guys who played a lot and a top assistant, but that's college basketball in this brave new era of de-facto free agency. Players are on the move, regardless of how good the team they're leaving is.
The key for Northwestern is to not get lost in the shuffle and find quality replacements. The good news is there's plenty of options.
Here's our look at each departure and how big a deal it is for the Wildcats.
Why it's a big deal: Kopp was the team's leading scorer two years ago at 13.1 points per contest, and No. 2 this year, though his average fell to 11.2. He was also the highest-rated recruit of the Chris Collins era, ranked No. 66 in the class of 2018. For most of his career, Kopp was a knockdown shooter who was the Cats' most consistent offensive threat.
The biggest problem with Kopp's departure is the hole he leaves in the rotation. Northwestern has a good incoming class of recruits, but it would be unrealistic to expect those three to come in and be consistent contributors immediately.
Kopp played 31.5 minutes per game last season. Finding someone to fill those minutes should be head coach Chris Collins' top priority in the transfer portal.
Why it's not: For the second half of last season Kopp was a shooter, but not a maker. He never hit more than five shots in any of NU's last 15 games and only shot over 40% twice. In the final nine games of the season, he scored double-digit points only twice.
Kopp seemed to struggle finding his role in Northwestern's offense; it wasn't clear if he was a catch-and-shoot guy or something more, and his shooting seemed to suffer because of it. His three-point shooting fell from 39.6% to 34.0% this season. He wasn't much of a defender, either.
Sources told WildcatReport that Kopp's departure was not a surprise to the coaches or players. If Northwestern can find a consistent outside shooter who can play serviceable defense in the transfer portal, they might even have a chance to upgrade.
Why it's a big deal: A two-time team captain jumping ship is never a good sign.
Gaines was a leader who had the respect of all of his teammates. He was the one guy on the team who brought a hard-nosed, tough mentality to the court each night, even if he was a role player who came off the bench.
As the team's best defender, the Wildcats could depend on Gaines to lock down the other team's top guard. An excellent athlete, Gaines was also a strong rebounder and excelled at finishing at the basket when Northwestern could get out and run.
Northwestern is now without its leader, its toughest and most experienced player and best defender. That package will be hard to replace in the portal.
Why it's not: Gaines has graduated from NU, so he's fulfilled his "obligation" to the university. He also has had to play for abysmal teams during his entire Northwestern career. He committed as Northwestern was coming off their run to the second round of the NCAA tournament, but never even came close to getting to the Big Dance.
Gaines played just 20.9 minutes per game last season. He was a limited player offensively, and his minutes and scoring went down in each of the last three seasons; he scored just 3.9 points per game last season.
Gaines might not have had a huge role for Northwestern next year because of his limited offensive skillset, so it makes sense that he may want to find a place where he can play big minutes and win some games.
Why it's a big deal: Head coach Chris Collins has had somewhat of a revolving door on the bench next to him since the tournament run in 2017.
The three assistants that year were Patrick Baldwin Sr., Armon Gates and Brian James. Baldwin Sr. is now the head coach at UW-Milwaukee and Gates is an assistant at Nebraska. Baldwin Sr.'s initial replacement, Billy Donlon, is now the head coach at UMKC.
James is the lone holdover from 2017 and Collins is now on his second replacement at the other two spots, so there hasn't been a lot of continuity on the staff. That isn't very conducive to great player development. With a new AD coming in, coaches might be less willing to hitch their careers to a coach who could could potentially be on the hot seat next season.
On top of all that, Dildy was seen as the best recruiter on staff and was key in signing NU's strong incoming class of 2021.
Why it's not: While one could say that coaches have left because Collins' stock is dropping, it's also true that no one's stock is rising faster than Porter Moser's. So it makes sense Dildy would reunite with his former bench boss from his days at Loyola. Didly also likely got a raise as Moser's top assistant in Norman.
Change isn't always bad, either -- especially when you've been as unsuccessful as Northwestern basketball has been the last few years. Collins could promote assistant director of operations Bryant McIntosh to fill Dildy's seat on the bench, or he could look outside the program.
Collins still has a lot of connections in the college basketball world; playing for and coaching under one of the best coaches of all time in Mike Krzyzewski will do that. It shouldn't be too hard for Collins to make some calls and find a proven assistant to come to Evanston.