But until the Wildcats figure out a way to grab anywhere close to half of the rebounds in any given game, they're destined to remain within spitting distance of the Big Ten's basement.
Undersized Northwestern is off to its second consecutive 0-2 conference start in large part due to its inability to hit the boards. Penn State's Jamelle Cornley and Geary Claxton outrebounded NU all by themselves in Wednesday's opener, then Ohio State's Kosta Koufos and Jamar Butler came within two rebounds of repeating the feat in Sunday's 62-51 loss at Columbus, Ohio.
For the year, the Wildcats are getting outrebounded by an average of 12.9 boards per game. To put that dreadful number into perspective, the Big Ten's 10th-best rebounding team (Michigan) is almost closer to first-place Michigan State than it is to Northwestern.
The Wolverines are at minus-2.1 rebounds per game while the Spartans are at plus-9.8 per game.
Sophomore forward Kevin Coble's return has helped a little bit. He owns eight rebounds in 56 minutes in his two games this season.
Sophomore Kevin Coble has been back with Northwestern for two games since missing the first semester to be with his mother in Phoenix while she underwent chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Though Coble hasn't returned to the starting lineup yet, he played starter's minutes against both Penn State and Ohio State. Expect him to be in the lineup for Minnesota and beyond.
But Coble rallied for 11 points in 23 minutes against the Nittany Lions and added 11 points and 6 rebounds at Ohio State.
IN FOCUS: Northwestern dragged out to an 0-5 start last year in Big Ten play. That same fate could befall the Wildcats again if they can't take care of business at home against Michigan. The Wolverines might be the best matchup for the Wildcats because they're the only other Big Ten team that averages a rebounding deficit.
It will be interesting to see how John Beilein's offense fits or doesn't fit with Northwestern's matchup 1-3-1 zone. If Northwestern can force Michigan to shoot from the perimeter, where it's hitting just 32.6 percent, this could turn into the Wildcats' second Big Ten win at Welsh-Ryan Arena since March 4, 2006.
ROSTER REPORT: Freshman point guard Michael Thompson has become Northwestern's iron man as he played the entire way in the Wildcats' first two Big Ten games.
Thompson delivered his first career double-double (17 points and 10 assists) against Penn State, but followed that up with 10 points and three assists against Ohio State. Coach Bill Carmody handed Thompson the keys to the offense from the moment he signed his letter of intent — and he reminded him of that fact after a sloppy stretch during the Penn State loss.
"You have to go out and take the ball ‘cause that's what you do," Carmody said in the Daily Herald. "You run this team. It's your team. Go."
After receiving his first career DNP in the Penn State game, backup freshman forward Mike Capocci contributed two points, two rebounds and two assists on Sunday at Ohio State.
If you add up Jeff Ryan's shooting percentage from the field and the free-throw line, they almost add up to 100 percent. However, the higher number is in the category you wouldn't expect. Through 11 games, the sophomore forward is hitting 62.1 percent from the field but just 36.4 percent at the line.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Nikola Baran, F Jeff Ryan, G Michael Thompson, G Sterling Williams, G Craig Moore. Key Subs — F Kevin Coble, G Jason Okrzesik, F Mike Capocci.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a high level to be away from. It took a little bit of time to settle down. It was a little surreal being back and realizing that it was actually happening and what it means to me." — NU sophomore Kevin Coble after his first game of the year.
Ohio State 62, Northwestern 51
Penn State 79, Northwestern 68
Northwestern 77, Howard 51
at Minnesota, Wednesday, Jan. 9
vs. Michigan, Saturday, Jan. 12
at Chicago State, Wednesday, Jan. 16