JerShon Cobb may never get back to 100 percent health. For those of us who remember him as the super freshman, the first top 100 recruit under Bill Carmody, it hurts to see a player who was so fluid in his midrange game lose more and more of his arsenal just because the injury gods have been unkind.
I'll always remember Cobb for showing up Dmitri McCamey by stripping him on back-to-back possessions and nailing a crossover step-back in McCamey's jaw that would have Tre Demps jealous. Cobb also nearly dragged Northwestern to an NCAA Tournament birth by lighting up Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.
That JerShon Cobb is probably never going to play at Northwestern again. But what remains is an experienced senior with a good understanding of how to get his shot and a pretty solid jumper when he gets it. With Cobb now healthy enough to rejoin the starting lineup, Northwestern is working him into its sets in a big way.
Against Michigan, Cobb, along with Alex Olah, led the team in shot attempts with 12. The shots that Cobb took on Saturday were starkly different than those he took early in his career, but that doesn't mean they were bad looks. Pull-up jumpers and attacks off the bounce were replaced with pops off screens and drifts to the corners in transition. Let's look at how Cobb got his 12 looks a little bit closer.
MANUFACTURING SHOT OPPORTUNITIES
Northwestern's execution off out-of-bounds plays has been really good this year, and Cobb was the biggest beneficiary of that in Ann Arbor. The play is really simple. Put Cobb behind two big boys, have him come off on a rub screen, get him the rock, and watch it splash. Northwestern ran it twice.
My favorite part of this is that both times, BTN wasn't ready for NU to score so quickly off the deadball. Step your game up, guys.
Cobb is an important offensive player, and there's nothing like getting him going by running obscenely simple plays off of deadball situations. Cobb's mid-range jumper has always been the strongest part of his game. Cobb from 15 equals free points for NU. Demps was the guy getting these looks with Cobb on the bench, but Collins called Cobb's number against Michigan.
DRIFTING IN TRANSITION
Northwestern is 308th in adjusted tempo according to KenPom, but that doesn't mean that the Wildcats are completely averse to putting something up early in the shot clock. A couple of times against Michigan, Northwestern saw something it could take advantage of and went relatively up tempo. In a sort of homage to Michigan State, a lot of those situations came off of Michigan's made shots. With Michigan taking their time to get back, Northwestern took advantage. Cobb hit his first shot after a Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman layup.
First of all, a lot of credit for this bucket goes to Bryant McIntosh. He recognizes almost immediately that Abdur-Rahkman and Derrick Walton Jr. both think that it's their responsibility to pick up the ball. Walton gets all turned around, and before he finds Cobb, the shot is already going up.
After a LeVert bucket later in the first period, it's the same gist.
Same spot, different result, and a little of that may be due to the LeVert close out. But again, less than 5 seconds into the shot clock, NU has a pretty open look on the perimeter.
Northwestern's issues with forcing turnovers are well documented (that 350th steal rate is pretty terrible), which is a real shame because the Wildcats actually fill lanes pretty well when they get up and run. This is after an Olah block, but it still functions as a bit of a fast break.
I love the way NU moves here. Lumpkin goes out to one corner, Cobb drifts to the left corner, and Olah books it right down the middle. It's a McIntosh outlet pass that kicks it off, but again, Cpbb knows where to find space and this time he knocks down the open triple.
I really like the coaching job Chris Collins did against Michigan, especially in the way he got the team ready to attack the 1-3-1. You could tell the Wolverines were going to give a heavy dose of zone with Alex Olah doing whatever the heck he wanted in the first half, but NU adjusted and got really good looks. The game plan was pretty simple. Demps and McIntosh were tasked with penetrating the top of the key, then the wings would run the sideline and baselines looking for seams in the zone to catch a pass and get an open jumper. That's why Lindsey was given so many minutes and why Taphorn's absence was so important. NU needed perimeter shooters, and Cobb was the best option the Wildcats had.
I, along with probably some other Wildcat fans, still have vivid nightmares of 5-foot-10 Juice Thompson (who was nowhere near 5-foot-10) ending up having to box out Big Ten centers when Northwestern tried to go 1-3-1. There was a reason for the madness though. These three videos show why it's so important to have a guy with real speed at the base of a 1-3-1. Walton Jr is responsible for covering both corners, all while having to front Alex Olah and fight through his screens. A combination of Olah doing enough to bother Walton and Walton just being a half-step slow to react to the ball reversals gave Cobb these open looks. He couldn't knock any of these down, but each one of these (with maybe the exception of the midrange J where his feet weren't quite set) were great shots for the offense.
PRINCETON CONCEPTS (pour some out)
There are still some holdovers of the old playbook. A lot of what the Princeton Offense is designed to do comes around in other systems, but a couple of plays Northwestern ran this weekend looked like they were ripped right out of the old playbook. This one brings back memories of John Shurna.
This dummy down screen that turns into a pop for a three-pointer was a really popular concept under Bill Carmody, though it was usually run closer to the top of the key. Carmody used this set to catch defenses scrambling in rotations and get Shurna and Drew Crawford open on the perimeter. Irvin recovers well, and the better option may have been Lumpkin in the post, but it's still a good concept to try and open up a spot-up shooter. The next one is less Princeton-y, but works off the same premise.
Here, Olah sets a little perimeter rub screen to try and get Cobb an open look from the wing. The plan is similar to the last look. Cobb isn't someone who can put it on the deck and get his anymore, so you have to move him around off the ball to get him open. On all 12 of Cobb's shots, none of them came off the dribble. All were catch-and shoot looks, and all of them were jumpers with the exception of this missed layup.
It's pretty clear that Cobb is a far more one-dimensional player at this point in his career. He's not going to go from the three-point line to the cup anymore, and he's not even a real threat to pop a pull-up, but he's still one of Northwestern's better scorers. It's easier to get, say, Tre Demps his shots than Cobb his, but that doesn't mean Northwestern should shy away from running packages just for Cobb. He needs to score 10-15 points per night if Northwestern is going to break out of this four-game losing streak.