Initial thoughts on Northwestern's 68-64 loss to Illinois State.
1. Offensive struggles
For a lot of this game, Northwestern didn't appear to have any idea what to do on offense. That's a problem. Just like the Stanford game, the Wildcats couldn't get the ball inside, so the offense became this: pass the ball around the perimeter a bunch, then turn it over or shoot a contested three. Shooting the three like that is never efficient — NU shot threes 50.5 percent of the time heading into this game — but it's especially bad when you don't make a single three in the first half.
We'll have more on this later in the week, with a frame-by-frame breakdown of what is going wrong and what needs to happen, but NU simply has to find a way to penetrate into the paint. Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin have shown flashes of being able to do this, but they haven't done it consistently. In all reality, this team is well-equipped to run the Princeton Offense. It will be interesting to see if Chris Collins introduces more of those elements, particularly the cuts to the basket.
Could a smaller lineup be the answer at times? NU's best run of the game came with Dave Sobolewski, Cobb, Crawford, Lumpkin and Kale Abrahamson on the court. Given the frontcourt's struggles, that might be the best option to help the offense.
2. Finding an answer at point guard
Sobolewski is still the starter and the main guy, but Collins has given Tre Demps a lot of playing time recently. This came with 8:30 left and it's exactly right:
During his freshman year, Sobolewski was at the very least a solid distributor who didn't make mistakes. Now, with the exception of some threes here and there, he's a liability on offense and not much help on defense. Too often, he's tried to drive the lane and either gotten blocked or lost control. The problem is Demps has yet to prove himself as a starting-caliber Big Ten point guard (though he was better today). Cobb can run the point, but he's more comfortable at shooting guard. Either Sobolewski needs to improve, or fans will be dreaming of days when Bryant McIntosh is wearing purple.
3. Defense needs consistency
The offense figured to struggle on offense this year — dog the Princeton all you want, but Bill Carmody's best teams were extremely efficient offensively. However, the defense, especially on the perimeter, looked vastly improved under Collins. The perimeter defense against ISU was just okay, but the Wildcats really struggled to defend the paint. It didn't help that Alex Olah had foul trouble, but he hasn't shown many signs of improvement as a defender anyway. Given lack of frontcourt depth, that could be a problem all year.