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Observations and Notes from Northwestern's Win over Delaware State

After a sluggish start, Northwestern got things going offensively to beat Delaware State 69-50. Drew Crawford scored 18 points in 40 minutes, while Dave Sobolewski had 12 points in 37 minutes. After winning four homes games in eight days against less-than-stellar opponents, NU heads to the South Padre Island Invitational for its first real competition of the season.

Three Observations

1. The Olah-Turner combination

It’s only been four games — and granted, it’s not a good idea to make conclusions from games against cupcakes — but Alex Olah looks like the best offensive center Northwestern has had in quite some time. At least, he has the skill set to be a strong offensive player. However, he’s been slow on defense and struggled to defend quick, undersized centers. That will improve as his conditioning improves, but coach Bill Carmody even admitted that Olah will struggle with some players’ quickness.

That’s where Mike Turner comes in. Turner is undersized for a center at just 6-foot-8, but he’s a much better defensive matchup against quicker centers. He’s had two good games in a row and sparked NU’s defense tonight, coming up with a big block immediately after entering the game. He won’t play as large of a role against some of the bigger centers NU will see this year — starting with Maryland’s Alex Len next year — but he will be called upon as a defensive specialist down low at times.

Olah isn’t conditioned well enough to play the entire game, and since Turner will struggle with some of the bigger guys, 7-foot-2 center Chier Ajou may be called upon to play defense when Olah needs a break. Many people expected Ajou to redshirt, but as colleague Jeremy Woo pointed out, he can provide a big body and give NU a few minutes of quality defense against bigger players when Olah is out.

2. The rotation is far from set

Every game, Northwestern is getting closer to figuring out its rotation off the bench this year, but it’s far from final. Turner is an obvious part of that rotation, but it’s still pretty up in the air. Tre Demps has shown flashes of his talent, but he’s sometimes too quick to shoot the ball and only saw seven minutes Tuesday night. Marcotullio likely won’t play as much as he did last year, but he was active against DSU and saw 23 minutes. Additionally, Sanjay Lumpkin and Nikola Cerina will see time at forward when they’re back from injury.

It’s tough to get much of a grip on what the final rotation will end up being after seeing four games against cupcakes — after all, Carmody said he still is trying to figure it out. However, the bench players’ playing time will depend largely on the flow of the game and the opponent. Marcotullio was a spark against DSU, so he saw a lot of minutes, but that doesn’t mean Demps won’t see significant minutes next game. It will be interesting to see how Lumpkin fits in, especially considering how much Carmody talked him up before the season. In short, don’t take anything concrete from the first four games regarding the rotation. There is still a lot for Carmody and his staff to figure out.

3. Perimeter defense

Five days after Mississippi Valley State’s Davon Usher went off on Northwestern for 35 points, Tahj Tate scored 23 for DSU. Reggie Hearn took full responsibility for Usher’s big game, and Carmody said he was hard on Hearn for that performance, as well. Carmody said he thought Hearn did a better job on Tate, but said NU needs to do a better job of zeroing in on opponents’ hot shooters, because “everyone has one guy” who can shoot. Once the Wildcats started face-guarding Usher and playing more aggressive on Tate, they did better, but they have to start doing that earlier in the game.

In general, NU hasn’t been very aggressive in its perimeter defense. JerShon Cobb was NU’s best defender, but with him out, the other guards are going to have to step up their defense beyond the arc. Hearn got his wake-up call early on, but Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps must also improve, as well. It’s okay to allow lesser teams to go on runs, but once NU starts playing better teams, a lack of strong perimeter defense could be its undoing.

Looking Ahead

Northwestern now heads to the South Padre Island Invitational to get its first look at good competition. The Wildcats get TCU to start — forward Nikola Cerina won’t play, but he’s a TCU transfer — then face either Illinois State or UAB. NU should be favored to beat TCU, but if the Wildcats draw Illinois State in the second round, that will provide them with a tough test. The Redbirds were picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley behind Creighton and look like a possible NCAA at-large team.

Expansion Talk

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ve probably heard that Maryland and Rutgers were added to the Big Ten. Carmody was very excited about the additions, and understandably so. He’s a New Jersey native and coached at Princeton before coming to Northwestern.

Carmody is an East Coast guy and likes to recruit that area — 2013 guard Jaren Sina is from New Jersey — so these additions should help NU’s East Coast recruiting efforts. There has been some skepticism on whether the Big Ten should be chasing teams that haven’t been able to build great fan bases in major markets, but Carmody isn’t doubting commissioner Jim Delany on this one. “This guy, Delany,” Carmody said, “his track record is pretty spectacular.”

Injury Notes

- Nikola Cerina suffered a sprained ankle on Sunday against Farleigh Dickinson and likely won’t be available for “awhile,” according to Carmody.

- Sanjay Lumpkin “started riding on the bike the other day” after dealing with mono. Carmody said it could be a week or 10 days.