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Northwestern 65, Wisconsin 56: Initial Thoughts

At halftime, this is how this post was going to start:

Northwestern hung around with a good opponent tonight thanks to playing a low-possession game with great defense and bad offense. Sound familiar? Tonight's _______ loss to Wisconsin...

But in the second half, the Wildcats' offense came alive to give NU its biggest road win in years and Chris Collins his biggest win since arriving in Evanston. NU went on a 30-9 run in the second half to take a double-digit lead, and they never looked back, holding on for a win. We'll have more to come, but these are our initial thoughts.

- I was skeptical that Chris Collins would be able to consistently out-coach some of the Big Ten's best coaches. However, he has out-coached John Groce, Tom Crean, Matt Painter and Bo Ryan since the start of January. That's really impressive.

- No, the offense hasn't been great, but this is the kind of offense we expected from NU heading into the season. It wasn't pretty in the first half, and even though there isn't a lot of flow to the offense, players started hitting open threes in the second half. The Wildcats scored .976 points per possession, their most since beating Mississippi Valley State on December 16. If the offense can just be mediocre like it was tonight and the defense stays solid, NU can pull off some more upsets.

- Free throws were both a burden and a strength for NU. In once sense, the Wildcats fouled Wisconsin way too often, and even though the Badgers fouled at the end to extend the game, the foul disparity was still 24-17 in UW's favor. Both NU centers were in foul trouble for much of the second half. In a closer game when the threes, that will be huge. However, the Wildcats hit their free throws at the end of the game to secure the win. that was as big of a difference-maker as any.

- Drew Crawford had a big game, scoring 30 points and pulling down 8 rebounds. He needs to do that to win games like this, and he did.

- The press break is terrible, still. NU commit Bryant McIntosh was unhappy, as he should be. Fixing that is a must for NU, and it should have been fixed already.

- Nikola Cerina provided a very nice boost off the bench in the first half while Olah was in foul trouble. He finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds and 3 steals. It was the most important contribution he's had all year.

- Cerina and Alex Olah were very strong on defense. They held Wisconsin's forwards to 6-for-23 shooting overall, and to 37.5 percent shooting from inside the arc. Very impressive.

- Dave Sobolewski didn't play in yet another solid game for NU, and there are no signs he wasn't healthy. You have to wonder what his role will be going forward.

- NU's best Big Ten record this decade is 8-10 in 2008-09. Exactly halfway through this year's Big Ten schedule, the Wildcats are halfway there, with a 4-5 record and games against Penn State, Purdue, Nebraska (x2) and Indiana still to play. 8-10 might be attainable.