Initial thoughts on Northwestern's 51-35 win over Western Michigan.
1. A new lineup
Before the game, we were told that Chris Collins could potentially pull Alex Olah in favor of James Montgomery III in the starting lineup. Collins was fed up with how Northwestern had played defensively against Missouri, UCLA and NC State, and he's called Montgomery III his best defender, even though JM3 has rarely played. It turns out that wasn't the only lineup change. Nikola Cerina also started, leaving Dave Sobolewski on the bench for a starting lineup of Montgomery, Cerina, JerShon Cobb, Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin.
The lineup actually worked pretty well. Montgomery proved to be a hard-working defender and Cerina has always been a better post defender than Olah. Once Olah and Sobolewski came back in, Olah, in particular, looked much better. He still has a ways to go on defense, but his post moves continues to improve, and he even had a nice drive and outlet pass in the early going.
2. Better defense
Yes, Western Michigan gave Northwestern a lot of help. However, this was still the best the Wildcats' defense has looked all year. These stats say it all:
From the first half:
From the second half:
The guards, in particular, did a much better job pressuring the ball and forcing turnovers. A lot of that success can be attributed to Cobb and Montgomery. Lumpkin also showed his potential on the boards. Considering NU's defensive numbers coming in, Saturday's performance is exactly what the Wildcats needed. Now it needs to become the norm, not the exception.
3. Finding an answer on offense
As good as NU's defense was today, the offense was pretty bad. Some of it was bad luck — the Wildcats aren't going to shoot 3-for-19 from three most games — but the overall offensive trend is disturbing. Say what you want about the Princeton offense, but it neutralized the talent gap and the backdoor cuts allowed NU to get inside. This year, without the Princeton, the Wildcats have often been forced to pass the ball around the perimeter and settle for a bad three at the end of the shot clock.
Obviously, Collins doesn't want to run the Princeton, which makes sense. However, he acknowledged at the beginning of the year that he needs to incorporate cuts into the offense (similar to the Princeton) to help NU make up for its lack of athleticism. So far, the Wildcats have struggled to do that. With games coming up in January against top defensive teams Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, that has to be corrected.