Over the next two weeks, beginning Monday, March 23, we'll be holding an extended Inside NU roundtable to rehash and analyze Northwestern men's basketball's 2014/15 season. We'll pose one question every day -- some general, some more specific; some looking back, some looking ahead -- and a group of our writers will respond. Additionally, over the coming days, we'll have separate articles breaking down some of the topics in more depth.
Yesterday, we discussed Chris Collins' ability as an in-game coach and gameplanner. Today, we turn to a completely open-ended question:
What is one positive takeaway from the season that we haven't already addressed that stood out to you?
Jason Dorow: We've all recognized that Northwestern's offense improved this season. Having a legit point guard in Bryant McIntosh made a world of difference, and Olah and Demps each improved their shot selection. The freshmen learned the offense pretty quickly and transitioned well to the college game. But I don't think people realized how big the difference is between last year's offensive efficiency and this year's numbers.
The Wildcats' field goal percentage increased from 39.6 percent to 43.6 percent. Their clip from deep lept more than five percentage points (from 30.6 to 35.9). NU was even better at the free throw line, knocking down 73.2 percent compared to last season's 70 percent. What does that all amount to? A jump from 309th nationally in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency all the way to 94th. And their effective field goal percentage went from 11th in the Big Ten to 4th. Next year, they return nearly 90 percent of their minutes and throw in the deep threat of Aaron Falzon. Northwestern's offense should easily be above average in the Big Ten in 2015-16.
Ben Goren: People talk a lot about how the zone funnels everything to Alex Olah, and a lot of people talk about how Alex Olah isn't a great man-to-man defender (I'm guilty of that). But can we talk about how great a shot blocker Alex Olah is? He was second in blocks per game in the conference, behind only A.J. Hammons. He beat out Nnnanna Egwu, Gabriel Olaseni, and Branden Dawson. That's really impressive. People don't think of Olah as a rim protector because he doesn't have the vertical leap usually associated with that role, but that's what he is. His timing is great, and when you're 7 feet tall, you don't need to jump real high to swat shots away. Let's give the big man a little more love, y'all.
Zach Pereles: How about the mental toughness this young team showed after major struggles in the opening portion of Big Ten play? That 10-game losing streak seemed like it would last forever, and at times it seemed as if the team had given up. Two or three conference wins seemed like a real possibility. But the team rallied behind the change to the zone defense and performed better on both ends of the floor for the most part. The four-game win streak was just about as fun as basketball has been in Evanston in a while, and although the team finished up-and-down after the win streak, seeing the mental toughness of Collins' players, and his ability to get them to continue to play hard when the season was lost, was a major positive takeaway. It was a tough year for a lot of guys, but it would have been a lot tougher -- and the future would have looked a lot bleaker -- without that four-game winning streak. Gaining that toughness early will be key in the future.
Henry Bushnell: I think arguably the biggest development of the season was Tre Demps' spike in efficiency. Northwestern will, as Jason discussed, end the season with a top-100 offense in terms of adjusted efficiency, and while I've championed Olah as the team's overall MVP, Demps was the biggest reason for the enormous improvements on the offensive end. Northwestern doesn't have a star at the moment, but Collins is building quite the arsenal of average-to-above average offensive weapons, and that makes it ever more important that Demps scores consistently, but does so without commanding the ball as much as he used to. He was able to do that over the second half of the season. If he can continue to do that next year, it'll be huge for NU.
Josh Burton: The Wildcats' improved play at home was a nice surprise toward the end of the season and could be a big boost heading into next season. Northwestern won its last four games at Welsh-Ryan and went a passable 4-5 at home in conference play, with four of the five losses coming to NCAA Tournament teams--two of which, Wisconsin and Michigan State, are in the Final Four. Granted, a losing home record in Big Ten play is nothing to celebrate, but the quality of opponents faced serves as a nice stepping-stone for a young and developing team in a conference set to lose a lot of star power. If that strong play in Evanston can turn into near-dominance, this team can make a lot of noise in the future, especially with the recruits coming in.