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Men's basketball preview: Northwestern vs. Lewis

The college basketball season has officially arrived and Inside Northwestern has you covered. Below is a preview of Northwestern's season-opening exhibition against Lewis. If you missed our all-encompassing season preview including player outlooks, major questions, predictions and a feature on Chris Collins, take a look here.

Northwestern officially begins the 2013-2014 season tonight with an exhibition at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Lewis University.

Lewis made headlines already this season after the Division II squad had DePaul on the brink of an upset in one exhibition game (eventually losing by 5 points), and then defeated Loyola Chicago by 12 in another.

Going into his first game as Northwestern’s head coach, Chris Collins made sure to reiterate to his team how important it will be to not take Lewis lightly.

“[Lewis] is good,” Collins said. “I don’t think young players realize the fine line between playing at the highest level versus playing in the league Lewis plays in. Anyone can be beaten on any given night. We can say, ‘Look, Lewis almost beat DePaul. They beat Loyola. This is a good team.’ I think [Lewis] will certainly have our attention. Now, whether we play well or do the things we want to do, that’s on us. It’s not because we don’t respect who we’re playing.”

Lewis finished last season with a 19-9 record while playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Leading scorer Ryan Jackson returns for Lewis after the guard averaged 16.9 points per game for the Flyers last season. Jackson garnered preseason accolades after being named to both the Sporting News and Division II Bulletin Preseason Honorable Mention All-America Men's Basketball Teams. In the win over Loyola Chicago, Jackson scored 22 points while forward Julian Lewis contributed 24.

Probable Starting Lineups:

NU vs Lewis Lineups

What to watch for:

- Although Sanjay Lumpkin is listed as a starter according to Northwestern’s official game notes, Collins said this week that he still had to decide between Lumpkin and freshman Nate Taphorn for the fifth and final spot in the lineup. Taphorn has impressed during the offseason, according to those close to the program, pushing Lumpkin for a starting spot. Taphorn’s presence also indicates that he has jumped over fellow forward Kale Abrahamson on the depth chart. It will be interesting to see how Collins utilizes Taphorn and Abrahamson in conjunction with Crawford, Cobb and Lumpkin on the wings.

- Center Alex Olah has established himself as Northwestern’s only legitimate inside presence. It remains to be seen how Northwestern will rotate the other big men. Collins has said that he is very comfortable going with a small-ball lineup with four perimeter players playing around Olah and the projected starting lineup indicates that sentiment. Northwestern’s top option off the bench will probably be the six-foot-nine redshirt senior Nikola Cerina. Cerina is a big-bodied forward from Serbia that could provide a physical presence off the bench. The exhibition against Lewis will most likely be the first opportunity to see how Cerina and Olah play alongside and in place of one another in Collins’ offensive and defensive schemes.