For the Northwestern Wildcats, the 2014-2015 season was an up-and-down one. There were some memorable highs, including an insane, improbable win over Michigan, and a thrilling upset of Iowa. But there were also plenty of forgettable lows, mainly the 10-game losing streak that ate up all of January.
But, barring something unexpected, the team returns all five starters, and brings in a solid recruiting class. That means there's already a fair amount of excitement surrounding NU's prospects for next season.
For the key guys who played in Evanston this year and are returning next year, there is plenty of work to do though. Here’s what each Wildcat should focus on over the offseason, broken down into two categories: "Weight Room" is one big thing off the court that needs improving, and "Game" is one big thing on the court that each player should look to improve upon (mostly offensively) this offseason as Northwestern looks to earn that ever-elusive NCAA Tournament berth.
Weight Room: McIntosh really struggled down the stretch of this season. In his final six games, he only reached double-digit points twice. That can partially be attributed to a nasty illness he had, but he also needs to add overall muscle mass so he can withstand the beating he will undoubtedly take next year while playing over 30 minutes per game, as he did this year.
Game: McIntosh’s defensive struggles were well documented this year, especially before the switch to the zone. But one thing that would really help the Wildcats would be if McIntosh continued to develop as a three-point threat. McIntosh shot really well from one area-- 62 percent from the left corner. But from the rest of three-point land, he shot just 32 percent.
Weight Room: The Romanian big man showed considerable progress this year, but still struggled when matched up with big men of either equal size and/or greater athleticism. When Olah is much bigger than his opposition, he usually produces. But when matched with a guy with similar size and more athleticism, like Purdue’s AJ Hammons, Olah struggles. This offseason, Olah needs to improve his lateral quickness. His moves in the paint were too slow this year, so defenders were either able to recover from bad positioning to challenge the shot or, in Hammons case, deny the shot completely. Additionally, improved quickness will help him be a better asset in the pick-and-roll game. It will also allow Northwestern to play more man-to-man defense with Olah on the floor.
Game: Olah has two main areas he can focus on offensively to improve his game. The first would be his post game. Essentially he has one move in his arsenal, the baby hook over his left shoulder. If Olah could add one or two more moves, especially a left-handed hook, he will be a much more efficient (and much less frustrating) offensive player. Secondly, Olah has a habit to fade to the short corner when Northwestern’s guards penetrate to the basket. That would be fine if he didn’t shoot just 27 percent from the left baseline. Overall, he is just a 28 percent midrange shooter. If the rising senior can turn some of those jumpers into layups, even if they're contested layups, he will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Weight Room: Demps held up well physically this year, but like McIntosh could really benefit from adding a few pounds of muscle. In general, however, Demps doesn’t need a whole lot of work in this area.
Game: Demps, in general, struggles in the mid range. He shot just 30 percent from that area this year and just 65 percent from the free throw line. Demps can be an even more explosive scorer if he develops his midrange game. Though, as he began to do towards the end of the year, he can also eliminate some ill-advised midrange shots from his repertoire.
Weight Room: Law greatly improved his outside stroke, but throughout the year he struggled around the basket. He shot just 51 percent within five feet of the basket, so increasing upper-body strength should be high on the rising sophomore’s priority list.
Game: There’s a common theme here: the team has to get better shooting midrange jumpers, or improve shot selection and resist the temptation to take those contested long 2s. Law shot just 34 percent from there this year. He’s a great athlete and a solid three-point shooter, but will become a much better offensive player if he gets better in the midrange area, or finds a way to get more shots at the rim.
Weight Room: Taphorn really struggled this year defensively, and that’s the main reason his minutes dwindled down the stretch. Taphorn needs to add muscle and quickness so he can be a better rebounder and defender in the 2-3 zone. Often, Taphorn was late in his rotation to shooters, giving up a lot open threes.
Game: Taphorn’s main problem is his defense. Offensively, Taphorn was really good, shooting 53 percent overall. Over half of his shots, however, came from three, so he’ll look to become a more versatile weapon this offseason.
Weight Room: Lindsey provided some highlight-reel moments this year, but struggled on the boards against bigger, older players. Like the other freshmen, overall strength is something Lindsey must improve this offseason.
Game: Lindsey showed a quick trigger this year from deep. The rising sophomore shot over half his shots from three, just like Taphorn, so adding to his offensive arsenal will be important.
Weight Room: Skelly is one of the strongest guys on the team and showed, in limited minutes, that he could physically compete. But Skelly needs to improve his body control. That was apparent when he had four fouls in seven minutes against Purdue and three in eight against Minnesota.
Game: Skelly really needs to develop his post game. He’s not at all an offensive threat at this point in his career.
Weight Room: Lumpkin is a bowling ball of a player and one of Northwestern’s best defenders. He’s a big dude. His quickness could improve, but he holds up relatively well physically for the most part.
Game: Lumpkin isn’t a big offensive threat, though he did shoot a respectable 37 percent from three. Lumpkin should try to improve his overall offensive game and ball handling so he can help the Wildcat offensive and be a tertiary option when breaking the press.
NOTE: All statistics from Shot Analytics (shotanalytics.com)