Well, that was fun.
From Sanjay Lumpkin getting beat in the "how many presidents can you name in 15 seconds" game by a young girl to Gavin Skelly's put-back dunk to Bryant McIntosh running the point in a way Northwestern point guards have not in the past, the Wildcats' 102-52 win over Division-II McKendree in an exhibition game Friday night was a nice way to kickoff Chris Collins' second year at the helm.
Yes, Northwestern did play McKendree and yes, Northwestern did get away with some mistakes that most teams would have taken better advantage of, but there were still a bunch of important takeaways from the scrimmage that that are interesting indicators for the rest of the season.
Versatility and Defense
"Versatility" could be Collins' buzz word this season. He loves it.
Last season, for example, he was stuck playing just seven or eight guys per contest and most of them were players that were pigeon-holed into a specific role on the team. On Friday, Northwestern came out with a starting group that was able to switch all perimeter screens and exchanges.
With Lumpkin, McIntosh, JerShon Cobb and Vic Law on the perimeter, Northwestern had a lot of flexibility on the defensive end. That lineup, along with center Alex Olah, played a team-high eight minutes in the contest and gave up just two points to McKendree.
In other defensive news, Olah continued to be an underrated rim protector. Last season, the big man blocked almost two shots per game even with the reputation as an underwhelming defender. He knocked away four shots Friday night. Lumpkin also got four and freshman guard Scottie Lindsey blocked two more. Although McKendree had no interior size to bother Northwestern, Olah, Lumpkin and Lindsey all did a nice job moving their feet to get into a position to block a shot and seldom fouled.
On the perimeter, Johnnie Vassar was a guy who really stood out. The ultra-athletic freshman point guard was a little out of control on offense, but his defense could be a weapon for Northwestern this season. He is willing to pick up the opponent's primary ball-handler in the backcourt and force him to struggle to get the ball over mid-court. Collins called him a "change-of-pace" guy who can bring it as a defensive spark.
"We made shots, which was nice."
Yes, Chris Collins really did say that in the postgame press conference.
Northwestern shot an astounding 71.9 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from three. The team's effective field goal percentage was 80.1 percent. Shooting is something that can translate no matter the opponent and Northwestern was really effective Friday night.
But it wasn't only important that the Wildcats hit their shots, but it was also nice to see where they came from. Northwestern took a bunch of open corner threes last night, the second-most efficient shot in basketball aside from shots at the rim. A few of them were generated from fast break opportunities where the secondary break generated spot up looks in the corner but most of them were created due to penetration, something Northwestern lacked last season.
McIntosh's ability to get into the lane on pick and rolls was huge for the team's ability to get open kickouts due to the defense collapsing on the painted area. Collins really like his decision making and it showed with his 11 assists and just two turnovers.
Runnin' Runnin' and Runnin' Runnin... (and turnovers)
Evoking images of the Black Eyed Peas, Northwestern scored 22 fastbreak points against McKendree and showed how important team speed and athleticism are in Collins' scheme. McIntosh was able to push the ball and kept the team organized when running while Law and Lindsey, especially, did a great job of running the wings as their dives to the rim were often met with a McIntosh bounce pass. Gavin Skelly did a great job as a trailer, picking up a nice dunk toward the end of the contest.
It was impressive to see and fun to watch, but even so, Northwestern lost the turnover battle. With 16 turnovers to McKendree's 15, that has to be concerning for the Wildcats. And it wasn't as if the Bearcats were forcing Northwestern into tough situations. There were some miscommunications and sloppy plays that need to be fixed up in the coming weeks.
But with that being said, one thing is clear from Friday night: this team will be more fun than last year's.