Northwestern beat Quincy 80-64 Thursday night in its lone exhibition game prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. The final result was never in question, but nonetheless, there were some interesting takeaways:
Three major takeaways
Man-to-man defense a work in progress
Despite holding the lead for the entire game, the Wildcats still showed some flaws in their man-to-man defense, even against a Division II opponent. Collins chose to play man the entire night, and as a result, Northwestern's defense was exposed on multiple occasions. Subtle lapses — players not making a switch quick enough (or at all), getting sucked into a screen, or leaving a man wide open beyond the arc — led to several easy baskets for Quincy.
There had been many questions surrounding Alex Olah's man defense heading into the season, and whether we'd see any improvement this year, as it had been a hindrance for Northwestern in previous years. Against Quincy, Olah's struggles playing man continued, as he was slow to react for much of the night against a small Quincy team that dragged him out to the perimeter. On several possessions, Olah would run into an off-ball screen and not be able to get through it, which allowed his opponent to break free and get an open look. He also only grabbed two defensive rebounds, despite playing for 19 minutes, against a Quincy team that shot just over 30 percent.
More on Northwestern basketball
More on Northwestern basketball
On a positive note, one of the new faces for the Wildcats, Joey van Zegeren, looked better than Olah on defense, as he registered two blocks and appeared to be more active defending in the post. Some other notable performances on defense came from Vic Law and Tre Demps. Both returning Wildcats played solid on-ball perimeter defense and were able to stay with their men for most of the game while also adjusting well to screens and helping out if necessary.
The rotation looks like it's nine-deep
Northwestern basketball has lacked depth in recent years, but Collins' player rotation against Quincy showed that his excitement over his squad's depth seems warranted. Northwestern used what was basically a nine-man rotation on Thursday with a bench unit that already looks like a significant upgrade from last season.
Transfer Joey van Zegeren played capably and is a legitimate backup center behind Alex Olah, as expected. Freshman Aaron Falzon, Northwestern's top recruit, did not start, but he was an impressive 4-5 from beyond the arc and played significant minutes at power forward. Aside from Tre Demps, Falzon was the most impressive offensive player on Thursday and led the team in scoring with 15 points. Scottie Lindsey and Law were the other pieces of that nine-man rotation, after the starting five of Bryant McIntosh, Demps, Lumpkin, Taphorn and Olah.
Northwestern's depth isn't necessarily in numbers, but rather in quality. The Wildcats at times used a nine-man rotation last year, but numbers eight and nine in the rotation last year were far weaker than numbers eight and nine this year.
Collins' preferred frontcourt rotation came at the expense of Gavin Skelly, who played fewer than ten minutes at the end of the game. Compared to last season, when the team's bench depth suffered after JerShon Cobb's injury, the back-end of the rotation will get significant opportunities to impress.
While Tre Demps, Olah, and Bryant McIntosh will continue to comprise the core of Northwestern's starting lineup, coach Collins was not worried about utilizing his newfound depth in Thursday's exhibition. Northwestern's deep nine-man rotation should be a strength for the team during the regular season.
Thursday night gave some insight into how Collins will use those nine players, who Collins will play with whom, and how often.
The first surprise came before the opening tip, with both Sanjay Lumpkin and Nate Taphorn in Northwestern's starting lineup. Collins has said he still has not decided on a starting lineup, so it's reasonable to think this was just an experiment. Vic Law's shoulder injury and Aaron Falzon's inexperience may have also factored into the decision. But it was interesting nonetheless.
The big takeaway though is the form that Collins' rotation took throughout the game. When Taphorn was in the game, it was almost always alongside Lumpkin. On the opposite side of that platoon, Law and Falzon were often paired together, but not necessarily without Lumpkin. Lumpkin played 15 first half minutes, and despite his supposed move to the wing, saw time at the four.
Oftentimes when Lumpkin went to the four, it was with Lindsey at the two. With the aforementioned nine-man rotation seemingly excluding Jordan Ash, Lindsey is the third guard. In fact, Tre Demps played nearly half of the first half at the point alongside Lindsey. Lindsey played 13 first half minutes, at times alongside McIntosh when Demps went to the bench. McIntosh only played 10 first half minutes, but that could have been due to his two fouls.
Demps was the best player on the floor, and it wasn't all that close. He excelled, albeit against inferior competition, at both point guard and shooting guard. He shot 5-6 in the first half, including 1-1 from beyond the arc, and dished out six assists.
Aaron Falzon only saw five first half minutes, but hit two 3-pointers and a free throw. He stayed hot in the second half, hitting two more 3s, and finishing with 15 points. He was probably the second most impressive player on the floor.
Northwestern's average pace of play last year was 63.3, amongst the slowest in college. Against Quincy, pace has consistently been above 90. Collins has stressed working on moving quickly in the shot clock to improve the offense with the shortened clock.
Van Zegeren is going to dunk on a lot of people, but he might not do much else on offense.
The shorter shot clock wasn't even noticeable. Northwestern got into its offense early and smoothly. But that doesn't mean the shot clock won't become a factor come the regular season.
At one point in the first half, Lumpkin led the team in minutes... and had a usage rate of 3.69 percent.
- In general, Northwestern played a pretty sluggish game, but in an exhibition game, that's not a major concern.