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Northwestern Basketball Scrimmage: News and Notes

EVANSTON, Ill.—On the afternoon of what some are calling the biggest Northwestern football game in its recent history, the men’s basketball team hosted a scrimmage at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Here are some takeaways from the scrimmage:

- On offense, Northwestern did look to push the pace, but remained under control. Getting the ball up the court early puts extra pressure on defenses and will allow Northwestern to get into their offense earlier.

“It’s a lot of quick hitting sets," junior point guard and team captain Dave Sobolewski said. "If we don’t have any scoring opportunities in those first 10 to 15 seconds, it’s really open and free. They’re really letting us play. From a player's perspective, it’s a lot of fun.

- Alex Olah looked trimmer and lighter on his feet all day. On offense, he showed some glimpses of solid post moves. And on the defensive end, he really moved his feet well, hedging ball screens effectively while keeping perimeter players in front of him.

“[Olah] has lost some weight and gotten in better shape,” Sobolewski said. “I’ve been really stressing for him to be aggressive down low. He’s hoping that in the post we really want to get it to him and cut off of him. I think he’s made a lot of progress even in the last six weeks so we’re excited for him to continue that.”

- As far as Sobolewski’s play is concerned, it was clear that he had a lot responsibility as far as determining how fast the offense would move. He has always seen the floor well, and as he made clear after the scrimmage, head coach Chris Collins’ system allows him to find his teammates consistently.

“I’d say to be a little bit more of a distributor,” Sobolewski said about his changing role in Collins’ system. “In the Princeton [offense], sometimes the point guard can start the offensive set then kind of gets lost a little bit throughout the Princeton. I think I might be called on to distribute a little bit more. I have no problems with that. Our scorers look good. Drew [Crawford] is looking good. We got some guys who can really shoot it from the outside, so that’s exciting.”

- Collins was pleased with the way the scrimmage went. He liked the way the offense ran and was excited to see a relatively good turnout. It was clear from the lineups he put out there that Northwestern will again be playing a lot of small ball this season and Collins is perfectly comfortable with that.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing is playing more four around one, with four more perimeter guys around one big guy,” Collins said about his small-ball lineups. “If you look around the country at the way the game’s going, it’s going to more of a skill game… If you look at the good teams, teams are playing skill guys; they’re spreading the court. I think we’ll be able to match up.”

- Fifth-year senior and captain Drew Crawford is expected to lead the Wildcats in a major way this year. He’s the ‘Cats’ most experienced contributor and is really Northwestern’s only sure thing as far as consistent offensive threats come. Crawford displayed a lot of offensive versatility in the scrimmage as he attacked the rim but also stepped back and knocked down some long range jumpers.

“It has been huge to have a fifth-year guy, the most talented guy who has played in a lot of big games to be the first guy to kind of say, ‘Hey, I’m all in. I believe in this. I believe in what we’re doing.’ I think that he’s set the tone for the whole team and those guys follow him. It’s my goal that he’ll be an All-Big Ten guy. Certainly we’re going to run a lot of stuff through him and he’s going to be our go-to guy. We’re going to need him to play great,” Collins said about Crawford.

- Also present at the scrimmage was Collins’ father Doug. Doug was both an accomplished player and coach in the NBA and his son expects to lean on him, especially in his first season as a head coach.

“It’s such a great resource for me,” Collins said about his father. “He’s always been someone I could go to and lean on for advice. For [Doug], every situation he’s taken over as a coach has been a situation where he has come in and had to reinvent how the team plays and have to build up the team. He did it with the [Chicago] Bulls, he did it in Detroit and he did it in Philadelphia.  He’s been a great resource. Building that foundation, those building blocks, you can’t skip steps. You’ve got to lay a foundation for what our program’s going to be about: how we want to play, how we want to practice. He’s really good for me to be able to bounce things off as we get going.”