If you watched Northwestern get thoroughly beaten by Northern Iowa last night, you noticed some disturbing things that Northwestern was doing, particularly on the offensive end. The offense wasn't at all fluid, with way too many possessions consisting of swinging it around the perimeter and only looking to attack when the shot clock is running out. And the defense seems to have a major weakspot: if you have a center who can shoot and stretch the floor, he presents a huge matchup problem for Alex Olah, who prefers to camp out in the paint to alter shots and rebound. Seth Tuttle played this role last night, and he led all scorers with 19 points.
The stats tell the same story that our eyes have told us- that Northwestern's offense, like last year, is the weakness of this team, at least so far. And the numbers back up the claim that Northwestern takes way too long to get into their sets, if they ever get into them at all. Northwestern's 62.3 adjusted tempo is easily last in the Big Ten, and they rank 335th out of 351 teams in Division 1. Their average possession length of 19.3 is also last in the Big Ten. A slow tempo isn't necessarily bad if you're efficient — though Collins has said he wants to play fast, but the Wildcats aren't even being efficient. They rank 195th in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is 13th best in the 14-team Big Ten (and Rutgers is 196th, one spot behind Northwestern).
It's important to remember that no one really expected this team to be an offensive juggernaut. Collins is a defense-first coach, and Northwestern's unit was excellent last year- that's what allowed them to notch quality wins in Big Ten play despite having a talent disadvantage most nights. NU's defensive unit has been solid this year, with a 94.4 efficiency that ranks 66th in the country. However, because Northwestern has played such a relatively weak schedule in comparison with their counterparts in the Big Ten (298th strongest in the nation), there are nine teams in the Big Ten with better defensive efficiency than Northwestern. Interestingly enough, an area where the 'Cats excel is in blocked shots percentage, where they rank 43rd nationally and fifth in the Big Ten, and an area where they particularly struggle is in steal percentage, where they lank dead last in the Big Ten and rank above only six other Division 1 teams.
Northern Iowa was really the first quality team Northwestern played all year. Kenpom ranks Northern Iowa as the 39th best team in the country, and none of Northwestern's previous opponents ranked better than 204th (and that was North Florida, who Northwestern beat by two.) For context, despite a 5-1 record, Kenpom ranks Northwestern 117th, ahead of only Rutgers in the Big Ten.
Northwestern's next two games are against teams ranked higher than them, at least according to Kenpom. They'll host 90th ranked Georgia Tech on December 3 then travel to #44 Butler, who just took down AP #5 North Carolina on a neutral court. Kenpom has set Northwestern's chances of winning at 58% against Georgia Tech and 17% against Butler.
Northwestern was able to eek out wins despite playing poorly because their first five opponents weren't among the top 200 teams. The 'Cats deficiencies, and there are plenty of them, were exposed by a well-coached UNI team that attacked Northwestern in its weak spots. You have to think Georgia Tech and Butler will watch the tape of that game and devise a similar gameplan. Their solid defensive stats are more a product of playing against weak opponents than anything else, so if Northwestern can't play better on the offensive end, a three-game losing streak is a very realistic possibility.