by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Northwestern beat the University of Chicago 70-46 in an exhibition game Wednesday night, but for the one time this season, the final score didn’t matter. In fact, the Widlcats can’t take many statistics seriously when they’re playing a Division III school and get 14 players on the court.
However, it was a way for coach Bill Carmody to see how his team looked in a setting that’s somewhere between a scrimmage and a real game. That’s especially true with a roster that features nine new players.
“To play in front of people with the lights on and stuff is always good,” Carmody said. “I wanted to coach it like a regular game, which we did, but I also wanted to get some of the guys who are new to the program in there.”
In the first 40 minutes of the season, the young Wildcats seem to have passed their initial test, especially the two new starters — graduate transfer forward Jared Swopshire and freshman center Alex Olah.
“Those two guys are going to have to play a huge role,” Carmody said. “They’re going to have to play a huge role, because you can see when they’re out there, things happen. They’ve just got a high basketball IQ and things are very fluid and they move very well. When I take them out, there’s a little drop-off in some things.”
Swopshire has experience after four years — three in which he played — at Louisville, but Olah is a bit more of an unknown. However, he solidified his starting role on Wednesday, totaling 12 points and nine rebounds. He also showed his ability to move down low, which NU lacked from its big men last season.
“I think it’s big… for him to know, when he gets it down low, when it’s his time to score and when it’s his time to stick with the offense,” senior forward Drew Crawford said. “I think he’s really starting to get that. He might have shot a couple extra tonight, but that’s good because we want him to be aggressive because he’s capable. He’s big down there.”
Olah will be the featured freshman this season, but that’s about all Carmody knows — he did point out that freshman guard/forward combo Sanjay Lumpkin is likely to see significant minutes.
“We’ll just have to see what the rotation of freshmen is going to be,” Carmody said, “But, Swop is going to be in there and Alex is going to be in there. And we’ll have to see with the other guys.”
It’s tough to pull much from an exhibition game, especially with so many people rotating in and out, but Carmody gave a short evaluation of some of the new players.
Sanjay Lumpkin: “Sanjay, I think he’s going to be pretty good. He usually does the right thing; it doesn’t always work out right. The decision-making is good, but he doesn’t always execute it. He’s going to help us.”
Kale Abrahamson: “Kale just has to get more and more time. He’s very anxious to get out there and shoot the ball. That’s what he does and that’s what we want him to do. He just has to calm down a little bit.”
Tre Demps: “He likes to score. I was just happy he made his open shots. He got a lot of open shots. I think he made two or three threes, which was good. When he’s driving in there he has to figure out when to throw it out and when to keep it.”
Chier Ajou (and whether he’ll redshirt): “We’ll see how that goes. Right now, I’m not worried about redshirting. I’m just looking at him and seeing what we need. I know, if he can block a few shots and he can get up to speed in some other things — he’s just not in the best shape right now. He’s only had like seven straight practices and it’s gotten better and better. I know one thing: if he can block a few shots, he’s going to be a fan favorite.”
Mike Turner: “Mike is going to help us. He just has to get some minutes. He should be a mismatch problem for some guys.”
While there is will be a lot of inexperience on the court at times, Northwestern’s players and coaches have insisted throughout the year that the team won’t be short on team chemistry. Thanks to new practice rules, they’ve been practicing together since July.
“It was different early on, and at this point it doesn’t even seem like they’re new anymore,” sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski said. “We’ve been playing with them for so long. We know each other on the court pretty well at this point.
“Now it’s just about getting the younger guys into the game atmosphere and making sure that they get enough experience so they’re ready to go as the games keep going on.”
Saturday’s win — even though NU’s record goes back to a clean slate — was a step in gaining that experience.