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A Look at Northwestern's Man and Zone Defenses

Henry has practice notes today, and since we've already hashed out as much as we can, I wanted to focus more on a bigger debate — should Northwestern play more man or zone defense. Both Chris Collins and Dave Sobolewski gave their opinions today, and while they are certainly open to playing zone — particularly a 2-3 — man defense still figures to be NU's base.

"It's definitely worked for us at times, but our bread and butter has to be our man-to-man halfcourt defense," Sobolewski said. "The 2-3, if it works for us that's great, but we don't want to have to rely on it each game to dig us out of a hole that our man defense has fallen into."

The risks of the zone are obvious. It leaves the Wildcats susceptible to open three-pointers, and when NU used it  against UCLA, well...

Let's take a look at NU's defensive breakdown, from Synergy Sports:

Type % Time PPP eFG% TO% Score%
Man 84.70% 0.834 40.80% 13.60% 41.40%
Zone 15.30% 0.888 42.40% 12.40% 42.70%

It's uncanny how similar NU has been in both zone and man defense. So what's the right answer? There isn't a definitive one, but it's more along the lines of what Collins said today at practice: NU needs to keep switching up it's defense, depending on the situation. More on that below, with some other defensive notes:

- Isolation is the second-most used halfcourt play against NU, and in general, the Wildcats haven't been great at stopping it. In general, Sobolewski and Tre Demps have really struggled against it, an Sobolewski has had isolation run against him 17 times for an adjusted field goal percentage of 70 percent and a free throw percentage of 35.3 percent. That means, 1) people are scoring against him and 2) isolation is getting him into foul trouble. When Sobolewski and Demps are in the game, NU might want to consider more zone.

- JerShon Cobb is far and away NU's best defender. He sees the most action and is allowing just .514 points per possession.

- Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin need to improve their spot-up defense. Check out the stats:

Lumpkin 1.35 75% 0%
Crawford 1.273 67.50% 9.10%

Those are two of NU's best players, and both play almost entirely man — Crawford plays 95 percent man and Lumpkin plays 88.7 percent man. For NU's man defense to improve, those numbers have to drastically change.