1. Tristan Jung - Vic Law looks like he’s turned a corner
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Vic Law has led Northwestern in rebounding in its first two Big Ten games. For a definite non-center, that’s very impressive. His defensive rebounding rate is currently slightly better than Dererk Pardon, which is crazy.
Law has looked like Northwestern’s best player over the past two weeks. He always provides elite perimeter defense, as evidenced by his absurd series of steals that kept Northwestern in the Georgia Tech game. However, the improvement on the other side of the ball is what’s impressive. Law has improved his eFG% (up to 55.9 from 48.4 last year), rebounding rate, assist rate, cut his turnovers, and improved his free throw percentage.
Law looks positively deadly from anywhere on the court. He’s hit plenty of huge shots for Northwestern, and he’s their best defender. There’s no one playing better than Law, and we should all be grateful he’s only a redshirt junior.
2. Tristan Jung - Northwestern needs Aaron Falzon to find his shot
Aaron Falzon is 6-for-25 in his first six games back from injury. He’s only averaging about a quarter of the team’s minutes and has not looked good defensively either (see Jackson’s buzzer-beater in the GaTech game). For the four-star recruit who was supposed to be a huge part of “the plan,” he hasn’t quite had the season he’s wanted. Whether Falzon starts over Skelly or not, he needs to be shooting comparably to Taphorn from last season if Northwestern’s offense is going to get back on track.
3. Davis Rich - Isiah Brown’s confidence is going to be crucial for Northwestern’s offense
Brown managed only 27 minutes and zero points in the Wildcats’ six games before conference play as he worked back to game speed following a quad injury during the preseason. Nonetheless, the sophomore didn’t shy away from the spotlight this past weekend. After Law, Falzon, and Gavin Skelly fouled out against Illinois, Brown did what he does best and got an iso bucket to put the Wildcats up 68-66 with 1:30 left in overtime. He got a huge rebound and nailed two free throws to ice the game against the Fighting Illini. “He’s fearless,” Chris Collins said following the game. “We’ve missed that.”
When Northwestern’s offense managed nine points in the first 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest with Purdue, Collins inserted Brown into the lineup for an offensive spark. It paid off, with Brown scoring seven points and dishing an assist to key a 24-14 Wildcat push that tied the score at halftime. Say what you want about Brown’s shot selection, but his confidence is going to be important when Northwestern’s offense stalls, especially with a starter or two on the bench.
4. Caleb Friedman - Northwestern has a late-game offense problem
Northwestern struggled early last season with its late-game sets, and that has been another problem this season. Bryant McIntosh had several key turnovers and misses down the stretch of the Illinois and Purdue games, and that's partly because he's asked to essentially pound the ball until a late-clock screen comes at the top of the key. The turnovers are still on McIntosh — he's the one making the plays — but Chris Collins needs to make a concerted effort to get the offense flowing late in games.
The ball just isn't swinging from side to side, and thus defenders aren't moving. When you get defenders moving, space opens up, and open looks follow. That really hasn't happened thus far, and it cost NU what would have been a huge road win in West Lafayette (refereeing aside), and almost allowed Illinois to sneak out Allstate Arena with a win. There will surely be more close games for the Wildcats this season, so being able to execute at the end of games will be of the utmost importance going forward.
5. Caleb Friedman - Anthony Gaines is a non-factor right now
The only true freshman on the Northwestern roster has played just 10 combined minutes in the team's first two Big Ten contests, and hasn't done much to inspire confidence in the coaching staff when given the opportunity. He isn't a bad defender, but it's hard to get into any sort of rhythm on that end when he isn't playing much, and that's a function of his inability to hit shots or handle the ball on the wing.
He's a freshman, so it's not like anybody should panic over Gaines's early performances, but it doesn't look like he'll play a huge role this season, which, for a team that lacks quality depth, isn't great.