First of all, before we get to the player grades let's acknowledge a certain connection that is particularly relevant right about now. It involves rewinding all the way back to Jan. 11, when Northwestern was in East Lansing to play a certain Michigan State Spartans team that will be in Indianapolis for the Final Four this upcoming weekend.
To make a forty-minute story short, Northwestern was close to winning. Like, really, really close to winning. Two Tre Demps free throws gave Northwestern a 72-70 lead with 28 seconds remaining before a controversial foul call on Vic Law sent Denzel Valentine to the line. He sunk both free throws, and sent the game to OT. Michigan State eventually prevailed, and the second matchup between the two teams was a bloody massacre that we won't discuss any further, but that's not the point.
The point is that Northwestern was one shady call away from beating Michigan State. Michigan State is now in the Final Four. Now, we must apply the Transitive Property that translates perfectly to sports and never, ever misleads....NORTHWESTERN WAS PRETTY MUCH GOOD ENOUGH TO MAKE THE FINAL FOUR WHAT THE HELL WAS THE COMMITTEE DOING PUTTING UCLA IN INSTEAD OF THEM?!!?!!!!
So, now that we've established the Selection Committee's egregious overlooking of a team that was #FinalFourBound, let's take a look at each specific Northwestern player's season and see what there was to like, what there was to dislike, and what the overall takeaway is.
Tomorrow, we'll pass judgment on the forwards and centers. But for now, the focus is on the guards:
Averages: 11.4 points, 4.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 turnovers, 42.1% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 33.3 minutes
The Good: McIntosh came to Evanston with fewer expectations than his freshman counterpart Vic Law, but it was clear from day one that McIntosh was ready to lead an offense and do so effectively. Everything that Northwestern did offensively ran through McIntosh as the primary ball-handler, and the offense was noticeably less fluid when he wasn't on the floor. McIntosh shot the three-ball relatively well (36.4 percent) and was efficient in the pick-and-roll all season long. He also possesses the floater that all point guards should, and displayed a nice ability to get into the lane despite less than elite quickness. He led the team in assists and his assist rate was 53rd best in the country, which is particularly impressive for a freshman. But he was also able to score the ball, putting up 21 points against Maryland, 18 against Michigan State and Iowa, and 17 against Minnesota. McIntosh generally showed great poise for a freshman point guard and he never appeared intimidated by opposing point guards like Melo Trimble or DeAngelo Russell.
The Not-so-good: As is so often the case with freshman, McIntosh hit a hypothetical wall midway through the Big Ten season and was significantly less effective in Northwestern's later games, averaging only 7.5 points in his last five contests. It is reasonable to assume that fatigue had a role, as McIntosh led the team in minutes and was relied upon heavily to get the offense going. There was also that nasty illness that he battled in February. But McIntosh also made his fair share of freshman mistakes and seemed to be a bit rattled and indecisive come crunch time. He also wasn't a very good defensive player and would often lose track of his man, resulting in cuts or open three-pointers.
The Takeaway: All in all, McIntosh had a tremendous freshman season and Wildcat fans have a right to be excited about the first Northwestern player to make the Big Ten All-Freshman team since Dave Sobolewski. He's a heady guard who knows how to run an offense and possesses a fierce competitive fire. Sure, he went through his fair share of struggles this season, but that's par for the course for a freshman, and his defense and late-game decision making should improve with experience. Barring injury or transfer, Northwestern has found its starting point guard for the next three seasons, and that's a tremendous luxury for a coaching staff to have stability at such a crucial position.
Averages: 12.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 42.1% FG, 35.7% 3FG, 32.6 minutes
The Good: Demps got off to a slow start this season before emerging as Northwestern's best offensive player as the Big Ten season wore on. In his first 21 games, Demps shot 39 percent from the field and his effective field goal percentage was only 45 percent. But in the last 11 contests, those numbers spiked to 50 percent and 61 percent, respectively. His shot selection was better than a year ago, as only 29 percent of his shot attempts came from the statistically inefficient midrange, down from 36 percent last season. And of course, Demps has a dominant clutch gene, if such a thing exists, and seems to be at his best in the biggest of moments. He hit a game winner in an early season win over North Florida, a team that eventually made the NCAA Tournament, and was the hero in that incredible win over Michigan. Demps also played extremely well against Indiana, prompting Tom Crean to not-sarcastically suggest that Demps will be an NBA player, and even to choose Demps as an All-Big Ten first-teamer. Demps was the best Northwestern player at creating his own shot, which explains why he was the team's primary option in clutch situations.
The Not-so-good: The aforementioned slow start was at times painful to watch. Demps had some really, really poor games (his 6-18 shooting night against Purdue comes to mind) and took a good number of less than desirable shots. And for whatever reason, Demps is just not a very good free throw shooter. His percentage has decreased every year, and he was only able to convert on 65.8 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe this season. Additionally, he continues to dribble the ball too much for my liking, often eating up a good portion of the shot clock and putting unnecessary stress on the offense.
The Takeaway: Demps salvaged his season with remarkably improved play down the stretch and even earned himself an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection. His late-game heroics were likely a, if not the, main reason he received that honor though, and Demps could still become much more efficient on offense and use his quickness to create opportunities for his teammates. On a team with five freshman, Demps was a vocal leader and was one of its most important players throughout the entire season. If he can play like he did in Northwestern's last ten-or-so games, he'll be one of the Big Ten's better guards next season.
Averages: 6.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .9 turnovers, 40.4% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 22.3 minutes
The Good: Cobb showed impressive perseverance in a disappointing senior season. Despite being limited by injury and seeing his playing time diminish, Cobb refused to be discouraged and adapted his playing style to that of a mostly catch-and-shoot player. At times, Cobb showed flashes of his past self -- a 5-for-5 shooting performance in the OT loss to Michigan State Comes to mind -- but in general, his health (or lack thereof) got the best of him.
The Not-so-good: Cobb's body just wouldn't allow him to stay on the floor. Cobb missed 11 games due to injury and played a full 11 minutes less per game than he did during his junior season. It was difficult to see him struggle so much, knowing both how much he wanted to be out on the floor playing at 100 and how much a healthy, scoring Cobb could have benefitted the Wildcats. Cobb's limited mobility also effected him negatively on the defensive end, though his lack of quickness was better masked after Northwestern committed to the zone.
The Takeaway: You can't help but feel for Cobb. When your body won't cooperate, there's not much you can do, and that was the unfortunate reality for the senior captain this season.
Averages: 4.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, .5 assists, .6 turnovers, 40.5% FG, 35.4% 3FG, 15.1 minutes
The Good: Not much was expected of Scottie Lindsey this season, but he showed a willingness to attack on the offensive end and impressive athleticism. Lindsey proved to be a capable three-point shooter and was a solid defender. What I liked most from Lindsey was his confidence and how freely he seems to play the game; he's not afraid to take a shot when one presents itself. Oh, and his rejection of Indiana's Troy Williams was nasty and Northwestern's only play to be featured on SportCenter's Top 10 Plays.
The Not-so-good: Like McItnosh, Lindsey had a bit of a midseason lull. He also generally didn't shoot the ball particularly well and wasn't always as aware on the court as you'd like him to be.
The Takeaway: All things considered, Lindsey was a pleasant surprise this year. Few expected him to contribute significantly, let alone start multiple games like he did. He is one of Northwestern's better athletes and should see his playing time and role increase as he becomes stronger and smarter on the court.
Averages: 2.6 points, .8 rebounds, .7 assists, .3 turnovers, 39.3% FG, 35.6% 3FG, 10.9 minutes
The Good: Sobolewski willingly accepted his diminished role as a backup point guard after starting his first two years at Northwestern. It would have been easy for Sobolewski to have been bitter after losing his starting position to a freshman, but Sobo was instead a leader as a team captain and a mentor to Bryant McIntosh. He took care of the basketball and made a fair share of his three-point shots, which were virtually the only ones he took.
The Not-so-good: Sobolewski's skill set simply doesn't align with those needed by the system Collins plays, and his role diminished from orchestrator of the offense to caretaker backup. He's virtually unable to get into the lane and wasn't quick enough to stay in front of the Big Ten's better guards.
The Takeaway: Like Cobb, Sobolewski's senior season certainly didn't go as planned, but he knew -- and accepted -- his role. He wasn't spectacular, but no one expected him to be, and he played mostly safe basketball in his ten or so minutes per game.
Grade: N/A (Didn't see enough to grade)
Averages: 0.8 points, 0.4 assists, 0.4 rebounds, 36.8% FG, 20.0% 3FG
The Good: This dunk.
The Not-so-good: That dunk didn't happen in a game.
The Takeaway: Vassar has decided to transfer away from Northwestern.
Tomorrow, we'll dish out grades to the six players that comprise Northwestern's frontcourt.