The premise for this article is the same as December’s. These grades are based on the contributions of each player this season relative to expectations and what the team needed from him to be successful. Essentially, it’s how well each player played his role. And as with December’s piece, head coach Chris Collins’ grade (at the end) does not take into account recruiting or any potential future success.
Here are the grades:
Drew Crawford – B+
Crawford was Northwestern’s best player this year, and he has been one of Northwestern’s best players ever. Glowing endorsements from teammates and head coach Chris Collins only magnify those facts.
Crawford’s final season at NU will in part be remembered for his performance in back-to-back games midway through the Big Ten season. The fifth-year senior led the Wildcats to consecutive stunning upsets on the road, with a Feb. 1 win at Minnesota following a Jan. 29 victory in Madison over Wisconsin. Crawford dominated the Badgers – yes, the same Badgers who are in Texas for the Final Four – to the tune of a season high 30 points and 8 rebounds. Those 30, combined with 17 more against the Golden Gophers, would garner him National Player of the Week honors.
So why doesn’t Crawford get an “A”? Inconsistency. When a fan base falls in love with a player, it’s merely natural to remember the good and forget the bad, and that’s what many do. Having established himself as NU’s best player, what Crawford needed to do to merit an “A” was be NU’s best player in nearly every game. Thus, performances like the 2 points on 1-15 shooting against Minnesota, the 9 points on 2-10 shooting against Indiana, and the 6 points on 2-9 shooting against Penn State slightly mar Crawford’s final season output.
JerShon Cobb – B+
Cobb is perhaps the toughest Wildcat player to judge for numerous reasons, most notably his struggles with injuries. Similar to Crawford’s, the junior guard’s season was littered with inconsistency. However, Cobb was still a major part of this team’s turnaround and its success.
Cobb’s biggest accomplishment was adapting to and maintaining a firm grasp on the point guard position. Cobb’s transformation coincided with the team’s transformation as a whole, and his ability to tailor his game to what Collins needed him to do allowed the Wildcats to put a more balanced and well-rounded group of players on the court.
Cobb’s numbers were decent, but nothing special. His basketball talent is unmistakable; yet heading into 2014/15, he’s one of the more significant question marks because of not only the foot fracture that cut short his 2012/13 season, but also his mounting list of injuries throughout his career. Even if Cobb supposedly comes into next season at 100%, at this point, it’s tough to expect him to end it that way.
Alex Olah – A-
With the future in mind, Olah was the biggest bright spot in 2013/14 for Collins and Northwestern. After a freshman season that raised doubts over his potential, the Romanian center made massive strides forward in his second year on campus. He developed into a reliable post scorer, NU’s most efficient offensive player, and an integral part of Collins’ offense.
Crucially, Olah also progressed defensively. Coming into the year, two major points of concern were his foot speed and toughness, but he for the most part quelled those concerns. It’s not as if Olah turned into a quick, athletic big man overnight, but under the tutelage of the new coaching staff, he gained a great deal of toughness, and learned how to compete with some of the better centers in the Big Ten.
From a personnel standpoint, Olah’s improvement was the most encouraging sign emanating from Collins’ first season at Northwestern.
Tre Demps – B+
Demps this past year transformed himself into one of Northwestern’s best offensive players. Previously derided for his persistent aggressiveness in the absence of offensive success, Demps showed that the best way to shed the label of a “gunner” is to just put the ball in the basket.
And that’s what he did – especially late in games. Demps was a major reason for Northwestern’s run of 5 wins out of 7 in January/February. He learned to embrace the pressure of late-game situations, and developed a knack for hitting clutch shots just when Northwestern needed them.
Demps falls short of an “A” or “A-“ because, unlike Olah, he doesn’t do much else other than score. But on a Northwestern team that ranked 309th in adjusted offensive efficiency, his scoring was, and will be, incredibly valuable.
Sanjay Lumpkin – C
Lumpkin’s season was one of unfulfilled promise. Watching him play, it doesn’t take long to recognize his impressive athletic makeup or his incessant motor. But Lumpkin was largely a non-factor for Northwestern in his redshirt freshman season.
Most of that was due to his offensive deficiencies. Lumpkin just doesn’t look comfortable with the ball in his hands. He’s not a fluid player, and often times found himself counted on as an outside shooter, something that he most certainly is not. He also seemed to lack confidence at times.
Collins’ offense can’t function with offensive liabilities like Lumpkin playing significant minutes. His improvement will be one of the coaching staff’s top priorities this offseason.
Dave Sobolewski – D
The only player’s season that was more disappointing than Lumpkin’s was Sobolewski’s. Throughout much of the season, the junior point guard and co-captain was often painful to watch. He looked out of place in Collins’ offense, physically overmatched by more athletic guards and frustrated with a jump shot that just wouldn’t fall.
A concussion suffered in a mid-January practice forced Sobolewski out of four contests, and when he returned to full health, playing time was not there to greet him. His absence coincided with the Wildcats’ finding their defensive identity, compelling Collins to relegate Sobolewski to the bench until late in the season.
Although Sobolewski perhaps salvaged something from the season with 10 vital second half points against Iowa at the Big Ten Tournament, it’s difficult to take many positives from a year of troubling performance after troubling performance.
Kale Abrahamson – C
Abrahamson’s season was in part defined by instability. Every once in a while, he would pop in a crucial spot and hit a big 3-pointer, but the 6-7 forward could never solidify a significant spot in Collins’ rotation. Abrahamson was never able to live up to the expectations of the coaching staff, those of fans, or even his own, and in search of a new opportunity, announced at season’s end that he had decided to transfer.
Nikola Cerina – C+
The memorable moment of Cerina’s season was, unfortunately, a flying fist that narrowly missed the face of Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross. The senior forward’s final year in Evanston was about what you’d expect. He contributed next to nothing offensively, but was an “energy guy” off the bench, and a semi-reliable defender and rebounder.
Nathan Taphorn – C-
Preseason rumblings of positivity surrounding Taphorn quickly fizzled out into a “wait until next year” mentality. The program’s only true freshman saw his playing time plummet once the Big Ten season got underway, and statistically, he was Northwestern’s most inefficient offensive player, worse than even Sobolewski. Taphorn has significant maturing to do, especially physically.
Chris Collins: B+
I was harsh on Collins midway through the season, and took some heat for the assertion that he wasn’t doing as good a job with this team as he could do. His mid-season grade was a C. Therefore, you might think that his end-of-season grade being higher implies that I was wrong. But I look at it as validating the previous thought, which was that in November and December, Collins underachieved. That’s because he did eventually get this team to compete in the Big Ten. The job he eventually did with this team was commendable, meaning the job he was doing in non-conference play wasn't good enough.
But that’s enough of that. It’s time to laud Collins. The rookie head coach demonstrated two ever-important qualities during his first year in Evanston. Firstly, he proved he could get a group of players to buy in. He proved he could foster a good atmosphere within the program. And with this, he proved he could instill resilience and toughness in a group of young men.
Secondly, he proved he could make adjustments. Collins came into 2013/14 with a plan. But when things weren’t going too well, and it was clear the plan wasn’t working, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to make changes. And he showed he had the ability to make the correct changes to incite improvement.
In the end, Collins’ first Northwestern team was still bad. But unlike the season’s first two months, the final three provided concrete evidence that the future looks promising.