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Northwestern 49, Illinois 43: Rapid Reaction

Northwestern was the worst team in the Big Ten. The Wildcats were one of the worst Northwestern teams in recent history. They were maybe even a serious candidate to go winless the rest of the season… and then they beat 23rd ranked Illinois. Here are some quick reactions:

-       Tre Demps - In the second half on Sunday night, Tre Demps completed his transformation from a so-called “gunner” to an impactful offensive player. Demps shot just 1-5 in the first half, and if this was earlier in the season, every second half shot of his would’ve been met with groans from fans. But this is a new Tre Demps. With the game in the balance, he hit three massive second half three-pointers in a three minute span to get Northwestern over the hump. Illinois was just beginning to find an offensive groove, and Northwestern was going stagnant, but Demps’ daggers turned the game around.

-       Responding to Momentum Swings - On numerous occasions earlier this year, Northwestern played decent games up until a certain point in the second half – and then everything broke down. Their opponents would make a few shots, and the Wildcats would crumble under pressure. On Sunday, it looked like that same old story once again. Despite a horrible first half, Illinois went on a run early in the second half to pull even, and it appeared as if the visitors would just run through Northwestern the rest of the way. But the Wildcats stood strong, and snatched the momentum right back. And while they did their best to throw the game away at the end, Sunday’s responses to momentum swings were the best we’ve seen from this team all season.

-       So Much for Up-Tempo - One of the ways in which Collins was supposedly going to change Northwestern basketball was to implement a more up-tempo style. And while that hasn’t been witnessed on the court through half of year one, Collins had often reiterated that he wants his team to push the ball up the court. He could even be seen waving the ball-handler up the court after some defensive rebounds. But Sunday against Illinois, after almost every defensive board, he held up his hands, imploring his team to slow down, settle down, and walk the ball up the court. And it worked marvelously. Northwestern ground out possessions really well in the first half, and while the flow wasn’t as great in the second half, they minimized possessions and made just enough shots to win.

-       Illinois - Let’s not get too carried away. Northwestern was good on the night, but Illinois was also really, really bad – borderline pathetic. The Illini came out flat – as they’ve been known to do – but this was another level of putridness. So while this should be about a great Northwestern performance, NU wouldn’t have won this game against an Illinois team that played anywhere near their usual level.