Initial thoughts on Northwestern's 86-64 win over Mississippi Valley State:
1. Who to play in the backcourt?
We'll have a Synergy/KenPom post discussing this later in the week, but Northwestern really has a decision to make in its backcourt. With JerShon Cobb out, the Wildcats started Dave Sobolewski and James Montgomery III. Who knows who would have started if Cobb was healthy, but given how well NU played without Sobo starting last time, it isn't a given that he would have started over JM3. JM3 is a nice story, but even though he starts, NU's most-used backcourt players are Cobb, Sobo and Tre Demps, and that presents a dilemma: who plays in the backcourt?
Cobb and Demps have been NU's best guards this year. Cobb is by far the team's best defender, while Demps has emerged as one of NU's best offensive threats. Sobo is lacking in both of those categories. However, both Cobb and Demps struggle as distributors at point guard, while that is Sobo's strong point. Would a Cobb-Demps backcourt work? It may not, but at this point, Chris Collins might have to give it a try.
2. Alex Olah's improvement on offense
Olah has steadily improved offensively since the end of last season, and that continued against MVSU. He finished with 18 points and improved his post moves. He's gotten the hook shot down and is more assertive in the paint. Granted, this is MVSU, which is very bad at defense, but Olah's play has progressed this year. He still needs to improve his defense — he was pulled from the starting lineup against Western Michigan because of it — but his offensive improvement has been impressive.
NU really needs Olah to be a strong inside presence. Without the Princeton offense, the Wildcats have struggle to cut and get to the basket. Forcing defenders to respect Olah will open up outside shots. According to KenPom, this has been NU's least efficient offense since 2006 and is far worse than Carmody's best teams. Olah, more than anyone, can change that.
3. Big stretch ahead
Northwestern isn't making the NCAA Tournament or the NIT this year. This season is about growth. Heading into the final stretch before conference play, the Wildcats play two similar teams in Brown and DePaul. NU is ranked No. 116 in KenPom. Brown is 151st and DePaul is 145th, so NU is better than both teams and should win those games. However, there isn't much margin for error, and considering how the Wildcats have played at times this year, they could certainly lose either game. We'll learn a lot about this team in both of those games. Win both of them, and this non-conference season will at least have a silver lining. Drop one of them, and there's no way around calling the early part of the season a disappointment.