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Northwestern’s new offense is real, and it could be on the upswing

Thursday’s season-opening win was a peek at what the Wildcats’ free-flowing offense could be.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Northwestern Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

“I hope to shoot better, to be honest.”

When you score 20 points, make six triples and think you should have shot better, what does that say about your team’s offense?

According to Ryan Taylor, quoted above, and the Northwestern Wildcats, the offense can get even better. Following the team’s three-point fest against New Orleans, head coach Chris Collins, Taylor and Vic Law all stressed that the team is still perfecting its play on that end.

“It’s just a lot of movement to get our guys in space and with the ball,” Law said. “It’s different than just a conventional offense with high ball screens and coming off with a lot of dribbling.”

Playing against a zone defense required the Wildcats to move the ball around the perimeter, occasionally dumping the ball to the charity stripe to draw in multiple defenders and open up more opportunities from deep. Northwestern took full advantage, launching 30 triples, something that has occurred just six times in Collins’ tenure in Evanston.

“All my guys have green lights,” Collins said. “You’re not gonna get yelled at for shooting the ball.”

While the Wildcats didn’t shoot a great percentage, the sheer volume of attempts put pressure on the Privateers’ defense, often forcing them to close out and open up driving lanes. As a result, Northwestern took a whopping 26 free throws (many of which, to be transparent, came on non-shooting fouls).

Still, despite the impressive point total, Collins felt like the team’s offense could use more balance.

“We gotta get the ball to [Pardon] more,” Collins said. “We made some threes early. Sometimes you get a little happy about that.”

Collins calls his squad a “by-committee team,” noting that several players are capable of bringing the ball up and initiating the offense. Six of the ten players who saw playing time recorded an assist, a sign that playmaking responsibility is being placed on everyone, instead of solely relying on a creator like Bryant McIntosh.

One of the greatest benefactors of this new offense appears to be Law, who tied his career high with five assists. Known as a defensive stopper, Law’s offensive game has slowly expanded in his time at Northwestern. He’s improved as a shooter, a shot creator and now, maybe even a distributor.

“Whatever you guys wanna call me, I’m just gonna try to do my best,” Law said. “Whatever my team needs and whatever I’m called on to do, I try to do it at a high level.”

It’s easy to overreact to one game, but it does at least look like Northwestern is playing a different brand of basketball than years’ past. Instead of late-shot clock pick-and-rolls, the team is cutting along the baseline, screening for each other and passing the ball multiple times every possession.

The offense did stall at times Thursday, and, Taylor and Law aside, the team didn’t shoot the ball particularly well.

Again, the Wildcats see room for improvement.

“To be able to win, while learning and growing [offensively], is a very positive thing,” Collins said.