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Three takeaways from NU’s win over Western Michigan

...yikes, that was close.


A win is a win, I guess, but for some reason, this didn’t really feel like one. In a game where Northwestern was projected to win handily (if you go by the exact line, it would be 22.5 points), the Western Michigan Broncos put the team to the test for the entire time. A contest that should have been fairly boring ended up being a nail-biting two halves of basketball; this might be good for the average fan, but this doesn’t make the Wildcats’ prospects look all that promising.

The ‘Cats couldn’t grab the boards.

Northwestern had less than half the amount of rebounds that the Broncos had over 40 minutes. Less than half. It seemed like the Wildcats were struggling to nab Western Michigan’s misses, leading to a lot of second-chance points for the visiting team. Off of 17 offensive rebounds, the team from Kalamazoo scored 15 points — that’s 10 more than Northwestern’s second-chance total and adds up to around 25% of the total points Western Michigan scored in the evening.

Heading into tonight, though, this type of play wasn’t a surprise. Western Michigan sits in the 84th percentile of all Division I teams when it comes to getting offensive rebounds (37.2%), and NU hasn’t been stellar when it comes to getting defensive rebounds (7th percentile with 19 per game, via CBB Analytics).

For a team like Western Michigan, this might not matter as much. But against Purdue in two weeks? Northwestern can’t afford to give up 15 second-chance points to a team ranked No. 2 in the country. If Chris Collins’ squad wants to pull off another upset, especially in the team’s first conference matchup, this is something that needs to change.

Northwestern needs its Big Three.

Barnhizer, Buie and Langborg. Even though the latter is a new addition to the ‘Cats, it’s hard to imagine this team without all of them on the court together. Though the three are clearly powerhouse point guards, it seems that when one falls, the team falls.

Buie and Barnhizer both had a day, putting up at least 20 each and going 7-for-14 and 8-for-14 from the field, respectively. Langborg, on the other hand, had a slow day, putting up only six points and shooting 2-for-9, missing all six of his three point attempts. Even though the team won, his tough outing certainly turned the team on its head. The rest of the team didn’t seem to step up to cover; Berry had five on the game and Nicholson had four, resulting in a whopping nine points from the other two starters. If, due to some circumstance, one of these three can’t play? The team would have a boatload of work to do.

Collins said it best himself during the post-game press conference: “We can’t expect to win games with only Boo and Brooks scoring.”

Northwestern’s offense needs time to start up.

Looking at the Wildcats' offense sometimes reminds me of when I microwave popcorn. It takes time to pop. Western Michigan led this game for most of the first twelve minutes; the ‘Cats just didn’t seem able to keep up with their early momentum. They missed opportunities on the first three turnovers from WMU, missing three-pointers and jumpers alike.

After the 9:31 mark of the first half, Western Michigan trailed the rest of the game. But before then, I’d say they were solidly the better team. This doesn’t seem to be a brand new habit for the ‘Cats, who let Binghamton lead all the way through the first half last week in their home opener. Although Friday’s matchup against Dayton was more promising, seeing NU lead for most of the game as a whole, it still seems like this offense needs to wake up a little earlier in the game.

Hopefully, the Wildcats can bring the heat when they head to their first game on the road this season this Saturday. They’ll head to Connecticut to face Rhode Island in the first round of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.