It didn't come without a struggle, but Chris Collins' Northwestern Wildcats are 1-0. After trailing for much of the first half and being down three points at halftime, a late second half run ensured NU survived a spirited effort from Houston Baptist in its season opener and came away with a 65-58 victory. Here are some rapid reactions:
-- The Wildcats came out flat. It's pretty simple. NU trailed 12-2 to start the game, and never really put together any sustained runs in the first half to assert their superiority. There are perhaps two reasons for that:
- Apparently, some of the slow start can be attributed to a schematic change from Houston Baptist. The offense the visitors ran was entirely different than the one they had run the past two years, and therefore the one Northwestern prepared for. That meant many of Northwestern's off-ball defensive rotations were off. Collins says the big problem was that NU's defense is designed to force the ball to the baseline, but Baptist featured a 2-3 high scheme with no big men in the paint, so there was no help on baseline drives. At halftime, Collins says they talked about a footwork adjustment that corrected that issue.
- Is it possible that last Friday's exhibition game went too well? Maybe. I asked Collins the exact question on Wednesday and he all but dismissed the idea, but against such an inferior opponent, NU's players might have been a tad over-confident and might've figured they could walk over Houston Baptist without breaking a sweat. There was a noticeable lack of intensity throughout the first 10 minutes.
-- It's too early to jump to any major conclusions, but Bryant McIntosh may very well be Northwestern's best offensive player. He again looked very impressive. He's smooth with the ball in his hands, and came up with some big buckets in the first half when the offense as a whole was struggling.
-- Everybody was impressed with the offense after last Friday, and our Josh Rosenblat detailed some of the ways in which it might have evolved over the offseason. But oftentimes tonight, it looked frighteningly like last year's stagnant mess.
-- We learned a bit more about Collins' rotation. There are a few major takeaways. One is that Nate Taphorn is ahead of Gavin Skelly (who didn't play a single minute.) A second is that Dave Sobolewski, while ahead of Johnnie Vassar (who also didn't play) at least for now, barely saw the floor. He got two minutes in the first half, but didn't get off the bench in the second. Third, as Collins often did last year, he cycled through most of his bench in the first half, but went almost solely with his favored lineups after the break. And finally, Scottie Lindsay is going to have a bigger role than expected.
-- Three veterans struggled mightily. Alex Olah finshed with a double-double, and made a few big plays late to help Northwestern pull away, but his first half was really poor. His final line is a bit misleading (though credit him for bouncing back). He missed a fair amount of close range shots, and wasn't as active on the defensive end as he was towards the latter half of last season. JerShon Cobb also didn't look like himself. He almost looked labored in his movements, and certainly didn't have an impact on the defensive end. And of course, no game is complete without a few Cobb long 2s. Cobb is coming off knee surgery this offseason, so we'll see how long it takes for him to get back to his best. Tre Demps also wasn't great.