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Rapid Reaction: Stanford 71, Northwestern 58

Our initial reaction to Northwestern's 71-58 loss to Stanford.

1. Playing against the zone

Traditionally, teams have played a lot of man defense against Northwestern. However, in the two games so far this year, both Eastern Illinois and Stanford had a lot of success zoning the Wildcats. The way to beat the zone is to penetrate inside, either by dribbling or by passing. Given that its strength is on the perimeter, NU will do a lot of kickout passes from the middle. However, no matter what happens afterward, the ball has to get into the middle, and so far that hasn't happened.

Far too often, NU has been content to just pass the ball around the perimeter. That allows the opponent to pressure on the perimeter and contest three-point shots. That's a recipe for poor shooting, especially against a team with Stanford's length — that showed up in the box score Thursday night. JerShon Cobb was the only player who was consistently able to penetrate the zone, and he made some nice kickout passes. However, Sanjay Lumpkin and the point guards, in particular, must do a better job. This team can't afford dry spells like the one it had at the beginning of the second half against Stanford and the beginning of the first half against EIU. Playing smarter against the zone will help that.

2. The point guard situation

It was a pretty rough outing for NU point guards Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps. Sobolewski struggled with turnovers and distributing against the zone, while Demps, per usual, took way too many shots that amounted to wasted possessions. The most puzzling thing is how often those two were on the court together. It makes sense to have at least one of them on the court most of the games, since Cobb, the other point guard, is more suited at shooting guard (though I do think the Cobb-Lumpkin-Drew Crawford-Nate Taphorn-Alex Olah lineup might be the best one NU has).

In order to warrant both Sobolewski and Demps being on the court at the same time, Sobolewski has to be a better distributor, especially against the zone, and Demps has to be a smarter and better shooter.

3. Crawford, Cobb.... then?

It's pretty clear that Drew Crawford is far and away the best player on this team and JerShon Cobb is a step above the rest. After that, there simply isn't enough talent or depth for NU to play like it did against Stanford and win. Taphorn is a good shooter, but is still learning. Lumpkin has received a lot of praise and could be a good player down the road, but he hasn't yet excelled on the wing. Next in line at that spot is sparsely used Kale Abrahamson. Alex Olah and Nikola Cerina are the only viable options at center, and both have their faults. And we've already gone over the issues at point guard. For NU to improve, the depth — namely Lumpkin and Taphorn (and Abrahamson if he can) — has to take a big step up.