by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
I watched Sunday's Iowa-Northwestern game a lot later than everyone else did. I saw it a lot differently too. Fans apparently are quite disgusted with the Wildcats' anemic offensive performance in their 70-50 loss to the Hawkeyes. Obviously, they have a right to be discouraged. Northwestern will likely be 1-6 in Big Ten play with games at Illinois, versus Minnesota and versus Indiana coming up. But this season was never going to be about wins and losses. This team has been absolutely ravaged by injuries and it has very little left in the way of explosive scoring options. This season was going to be about progress, defined by how guys like Dave Sobolewski and Alex Olah stepped up. In that light, Sunday's drubbing is a little less disappointing that it seems. Here are my quick thoughts from Sunday evening's contest:
1. Dave Sobolewski obviously didn't have his best shooting game against Iowa. That doesn't worry me very much. I think he has made it very clear that he is an adept shooter. Coach Bill Carmody even called Sobolewski his best shooter earlier this season. My doubt with Sobolewski was that he couldn't crash the paint like Michael "Juice" Thompson once did. Well, I can now see Juice on that Welsh-Ryan floor. Sobolewski was aggressive Sunday, flying to the hoop, sacrificing his body and showing great finishing skills in the lane. His 14 points don't even begin to speak to how much life he gave the Wildcats. He was honestly the only living part of Northwestern's offense for most of Sunday's game.
2. This Northwestern team has gotten better at rebounding. The numbers might not show it on Sunday, but then again, you have to factor in that Iowa didn't miss many shots in the second half while the Wildcats' poor shooting allowed the Hawkeyes to accrue rebound after rebound on the defensive glass all night long. Northwestern appears fairly solid on the defensive glass now, and the Wildcats were even able to tip a few balls out on the offensive end to create second opportunities. In particular, I think Alex Olah is a much better and much more solid rebounder than Luka Mirkovic or Davide Curletti was.
3. Mike Turner impressed with a swished three-pointer from the top of the key, but his defense absolutely has to improve. He let Aaron White get behind him, and he also let big guys get the first step on him, allowing them to power to the hoop for easy dunks. Turner is going to have to improve his quickness down low. He's too easy to score on right now.
4. Northwestern clearly isn't a team that is going to put up points easily this season. The Wildcats are in need of some charity, which would seem to be exactly what the charity stripe is for. The problem is that the Wildcats aren't particularly good from the charity stripe and that will need to change. Northwestern went just 15-of-25 from the free-throw line on Sunday. If they sink 20-of-25, it's suddenly a much closer game. And it wasn't just big freshmen like Alex Olah missing from the line. Reggie Hearn missed a pair. Sobolewski missed a couple. Sobolewski, Hearn, Tre Demps and Alex Marcotullio need to become sharpshooters from the line. That is a necessary ingredient.
5. Dave Sobolewski was fine Sunday night, but he cannot be the only Northwestern player to penetrate toward the hole. Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire have been hugely disappointing in that regard. Hearn may still be affected by injury, but the Wildcats will need these two to join Sobolewski in aggressively shuttling toward the basket, thus turning Northwestern into something more than a one-pony show. Neither can be content to simply camp out behind the arc. Hearn is one of the Wildcats' best cutters, Swopshire is one of the most athletic players on the team; neither was anywhere to be seen on Sunday evening.
6. Northwestern's defense was quite good at times, but elite three-point shooters like Josh Oglesby cannot be left open behind the three-point line as he was time after time on Sunday. During one-minute stretch, Oglesby had three wide open three-point opportunities. That cannot happen. A team that is going to win on defensive grit cannot give away three points as easily as that.
7. Finally, energetic post players like Aaron White cannot be allowed to generate momentum toward the basket. White didn't even have to muscle his way toward the hoop for hook shots. Neither did Melsahn Basabe. The Wildcats made the unfortunate mistake of not bottling them up and allowing them to generate velocity toward the hole. Guys like that are unstoppable when you give them the space to get their engines going. Defenders need to meet them as soon as the ball gets to them. Rodney Williams of Minnesota is the same type of player. If the Wildcats let him get a step, Williams will be all over the SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reel.