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Northwestern Basketball Practice Notes: 12/6

Nearing the conclusion of what has turned out to be a brutal stretch of seven games in sixteen days, Northwestern hosts Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon looking to bounce back from three consecutive defeats. The Wildcats have been less than stellar recently, and possess an unfavorable record of 4-5. Before practice on Friday, coach Chris Collins and guards Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps addressed some of the team’s issues.

- Collins maintains that Northwestern’s problem isn’t its offense. He reiterated his opinion that on Wednesday against NC State, the Wildcats got open shots but just couldn’t hit them.

“It’s always easy to say at the end, ‘man, the offense wasn’t working.’” Collins said. “You get the same shots against UIC and you score 93 points because [shots] go in. Part of it is, we have to make open shots. When we do have opportunities, we have to finish. I thought that really affected the rest of our game.”

Reading between the lines, Collins seemed to almost be indirectly placing the blame on the players. By this point, it’s clear that the current team just isn’t that talented, and while Collins would never concede that, he did seem to be a little exasperated at his team’s offensive failures.

- It’s apparent that Collins has drilled into his players the mentality of always prioritizing defense. Both Sobolewski and Demps expressed the general feeling that there’s no specific problem on the offensive end, and that the main point of emphasis is defense and effort. Their words might as well have come straight out of Collins’ mouth.

Collins pinpointed defensive rebounding and limiting an opponent's transition opportunities as keys to improvement on the defensive end. He rued the lack of size on his front line, not as an excuse, but as a way of highlighting the idea that rebounding must be a collective effort.

Both players and coach also touched on the merits of the 2-3 zone that Northwestern has been employing with a bit more regularity recently.

- Collins said he thought that on Wednesday, the players let their offensive woes affect their overall attitude and effort, which is unacceptable. He said the main thing he’ll look for tomorrow is rejuvenated effort and sustained fight from his team for 40 minutes. Collins lauded Drew Crawford for his effort, and stressed that the rest of the team needed to measure up to the standard set by Crawford.

“I thought Drew was playing his tail off,” Collins said. “The guys need to raise their sense of urgency to his level. He’s the senior, this is his last go-around. Sometimes, when you’re a young player, you feel like you have all this time. My goal is for everybody on this team to have the sense of urgency that Drew has, and if we do that, we’ll be a better team.”

- Collins noted an astounding statistic: Alex Olah has only shot 17 free throws in 9 games so far this season; that amounts to less than two free throws per game, which for a 7-footer is inconceivable, especially for one who actually is pretty good from the free throw line.

- Collins has continually said that he wants Northwestern to push the tempo – and he referenced that once again on Friday – but the facts are the facts: fast break points have been nearly nonexistent for Northwestern the past three games. Collins did have something to say on that topic though.

“We have a hard time forcing turnovers. We don’t have guys out in passing lanes, our defense is a little more compact,” Collins said. Then he got to what he actually meant: “You look at our team, who are the guys that are going to be the gazelles out running? You’re kind of a function of the team that you have.”

Overall – and this is just my observation, not anything that Collins has said directly – it appears as if the first year head coach is beginning to come to the realization that his current squad just simply isn’t good enough. Naturally, it takes time to adapt to a new system, but the 4-5 start has maybe been slightly discouraging for a coach that is used to coaching players of a higher caliber.