by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Three quick thoughts from Northwestern’s 69-51 loss at Minnesota
Tre Demps Needs More Minutes.
This team is going to have problems scoring the basketball the rest of the season. Not having Drew Crawford and JerShonn Cobb shifts an inordinate burden on otherwise marginal scoring options – Dave Sobolewski, Alex Olah, Jared Swopshire – and so far, they haven’t been up to bat. The Wildcats need to invent ways to create points; as currently constructed, they simply don’t have the talent and individual ability on the offensive end to hold their own weight.
A minor switch that could end up paying huge scoring dividends involves Tre Demps. It is a simple suggestion: play him more. I’m not advocating he join the starting lineup, or that Sobolewski be forced to the bench in his stead. Demps is best used in spurts, mixed in the backcourt rotation with Alex Marcotullio, Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and Kale Abrahamson. Carmody afforded him ample playing time in consecutive games against Brown and Stanford – 23 and 24 minutes, respectively. Demps played just 14 minutes against Minnesota, most of which came in the second half, the outcome already sealed. His 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting were nothing special. Demps undoubtedly benefited from playing against Minnesota’s second unit. But until Northwestern finds a better way to generate offense at a consistent level, allowing Demps more floortime is not a crime. It’s downright reasonable.
If You Don’t Rebound, You Don’t Win.
It is one of the oldest and most fundamental basketball skills. All the good teams do it, and more often than not, they do it exceptionally well. Minnesota entered Sunday with the nation’s leading offensive rebounding percentage. Northwestern ranked 250th in the same category. You saw this one coming. The Gophers manhandled NU on the boards from start to finish. Trevor Mbakwe lived up to his glass-cleaning billing. Rodney Williams anticipated missed shots and pounced on loose balls off the carom. Joe Coleman outworked nearby players for position. By the time it was over, Minnesota had outrebounded Northwestern 47-20, and had matched NU’s total in offensive boards alone (20).
Provided Carmody stressed the importance of keeping Minnesota off the glass – and I’m willing to bet he most certainly did – Northwestern’s efforts are a huge disappointment. It’s true Minnesota is one of, if not the best rebounding team in the country. Mbakwe is a naturally gifted miss-snaring force, and the Gophers collectively attack the boards with voracious intensity. But basketball rules are designed to favor defensive rebounders; if you can establish position in the low-post, find your man and block him out, rebounds are a natural end product. There are exceptions – few teams have been able to limit Minnesota’s offensive rebounding prowess – but if you dedicate yourself to limiting second-chance points with textbook technique and positioning, there’s no reason for your opponent to nearly double your rebounding total. To me, this was a case of poor effort, with a hint of intimidation, and a growing sense, as the game got out of hand in the second half, of pure resignation. Northwestern can’t become a better rebounding team overnight. It can assume a better mindset and attitude toward that aspect of the game.
The Big Ten Is Really Good.
The last two games, consecutive blowout losses to Michigan and Minnesota, leave the impression that Northwestern won’t be competitive in any games it plays the rest of the season. That is not the case. Northwestern will win a few conference games, I suspect, even if its first two league opponents destroyed the Wildcats in every measurable and empirical respect. Michigan and Minnesota are not just two of the best teams in the Big Ten. They are two of the best teams in the country, real life Final Four contenders, well-rounded basketball machines with NBA talent and gifted athletes on both ends of the floor. They are going to make a lot of teams look silly this season. Case in point: Michigan obliterated Iowa, an NCAA Tournament hopeful, by 30 points Sunday.
In short: don't panic. yet. The rocky start to Big Ten play is not as much a reflection on Northwestern’s depleted state as it is its insane schedule strength. The Wildcats move on to a more reasonable proposition Thursday, at Penn State, which should provide a boost going into Saturday’s intriguing home matchup with the Hawkeyes. Northwestern wasn’t beating Michigan and Minnesota, injuries or not. These are national juggernauts playing extremely efficient basketball. If the Wildcats can capitalize on beatable opponents like Penn State, grind out manageable home tests like Iowa and Purdue (Feb. 2) and pull off an upset or two, they may wind up surprising a few people.