I’m still one-handed, due to an upper extremity injury — that’s all I can reveal due to the Northwestern injury policy — but here’s some quick analysis from the Wildcats’ 72-55 win over Eastern Illinois. It’s one game, so it’s hard to take too much from this, but it will be interesting to see what trends develop.
Getting the ball inside
This is obviously nothing new, but for Northwestern to be successful, it has to be able to open things up inside. The performance against EIU didn’t inspire much confidence in that regard. Alex Olah is clearly more comfortable than last year, but he still has trouble with post moves. Nikola Cerina is going to have a lot bigger impact on the season than expected. He has a physical presence that NU has been missing inside, and his prowess on the boards will be crucial. He showed some strong post moves and an ability to get to the hoop, and while he’s over-aggressive sometimes, any sort of aggression inside will be a nice change of pace for the Wildcats.
What’s more troubling is that none of the wings were able to create anything when they cut inside — with the exception of Drew Crawford at times — and cuts will be a major part of the gameplan this year. JerShon Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin have to be able to make those plays, or else NU is going to live and die by the three. This team shoots the three well, no doubt, but it’s not efficient for even the best three-point shooting teams to have to rely on the three so much. That reliance caused a lot of dry spells against EIU, and it will continue all season if the Wildcats can’t create anything inside.
Drew Crawford is No. 1, who is No. 2?
I heard from a couple people this summer that Drew Crawford looked miles better than everyone else on the team. That was pretty obvious Saturday night. He had a double-double, leading the team in both points and rebounds, and he had a helluva block to get things going.
But who is going to be No. 2? That’s NU’s biggest question. The strongest candidates appear to be Sanjay Lumpkin and JerShon Cobb. But both need to provide more of an offensive presence, especially on cuts, and Cobb needs to be able to create off the dribble. If even one of them steps up — keep in mind, both have sat out awhile and are rusty — the number of offensive dry spells will greatly diminish.
What about point guard?
This is just one game, so we’ll have to see how the point guard situation develops. However, be it because if foul trouble or something else, Dave Sobolewski played far less than expected today, and consequently, Tre Demps saw a lot more minutes than expected. If it was a foul thing, it will be interesting to see how that affects Sobolewski’s playing time — he’s been physical in the past and could be at a disadvantage with the new rules.
I asked Collins about it after the game and he sort of dodged the question. Foul trouble played into it, for sure, but Collins said he isn't afraid to play Demps if he has it going.
This is an interesting case because Sobolewski and Demps are very different players; they aren’t interchangeable. Sobolewski has stated that he plans to be more of a distributor this year, while Demps loves to drive the lane and attempt to create scoring chances (sometimes unsuccessfully) on his own.
Then there’s Cobb, who played mostly shooting guard, but switched to point guard at times with Sanjay Lumpkin, Drew Crawford, Nate Taphorn and Alex Olah in the game. That’s a big lineup that gives NU a lot more length than it’s been used to in the past, and it's shown on defense. It will be really interesting to see how things play out over the course of the year.
- As noted above, the defense has been very good in the first two games, particularly on the perimeter. NU has a lot more length than normal, so that certainly helps.
- NU played much better in the second half. The passing, in particular, was much improved.
- There were 49 fouls and 67 free throws in this game, so the new rules were certainly noticeable. Some of the “fouls” probably should have been let go even under the new rules, but the refs are setting the tone early in the year.
- Cobb had 8 assists and 9 points. NU will need him to be more productive as a scorer, but he has good floor vision and did a good job kicking the ball to the wing on drives. His assist numbers will be something to watch this year. Collins singled him out after the game.
- The student section was overflowing for this game, which is pretty impressive given how empty it has been for even some Big Ten games — and especially EIU-like games — in recent years.
- Chris Collins is the first NU coach to win his opener since Ricky Byrdsong in 1993. Bill Carmody lost to Arkansas-Little Rock in 2000 and Kevin O'Neill lost to Siena in 1997.
- Collins said EIU's pressure got to NU at the end of the first half. He said Sobolewski and Demps, specifically, played much better against the pressure in the second half.