Bill Carmody said at Big Ten Media Day that he tends to forget Reggie Hearn is a walk-on. Although Hearn succeeded at times last season, he still entered the season with room for improvement. So far this season, the senior has been a revelation, with 15 points per game on 61 percent shooting – not to mention his sharp defense.
How will Olah fare later in the season?
Perhaps the center position remains the largest question mark. Alex Olah possesses an excellent offensive game already. The defense has yet to come, but after years of watching Davide Curletti and Luka Mirkovic flounder at the 5-spot, Olah inspires significant optimism. If he can hold his own in conference play, expect his fan club to grow exponentially.
Is the rebounding actually better?
Hearn thinks so. He referenced Nikola Cerina, who before his injury pulled down seven rebounds in 10 minutes. Northwestern finally dominated the glass against Fairleigh Dickinson, with a plus-16 margin. This came after Olah put forth a forgettable two-rebound performance in the MVSU clunker. One thing I take for granted: Cerina will help the cause. Still, frontcourt depth is not among NU's strengths. Jury's out on this question.
Can Tre Demps succeed in his new role?
After three games, Demps has emerged as the man tasked with high-volume shooting. Demps generally catches the ball and fires shots up. His strong offensive game lends itself well to the quick-strike attack. The results on this experiment have been mixed. Demps appears comfortable slashing, but he has missed all eight of his three-point field goal tries. Despite the team's depth, Carmody will rely on Demps to give the team a lift. The redshirt freshman's output just needs to be consistent.
Is Kale Abrahamson ready for action?
Abrahamson boasts the ball skills necessary to be an elite Big Ten player in the future. Right now, he will likely see a reduced role. He showed definite flashes in his 15-point outburst against Texas Southern. When he started to find his stroke, the opposing defense had no answer. In the past two games, he struggled to establish rhythm. He was the victim of what Carmody called a "quick hook" against MVSU, and made just one of five attempts from behind the arc against FDU. He also needs to be more careful with the ball if he hopes to see conference action.
Who can play shutdown defense?
When Abrahamson made a defensive miscue against MVSU, Carmody snapped and immediately called on Hearn to enter the game. Hearn, however, generally struggled to shut down Davon Usher – who erupted for 35 points. Hearn called himself out in the postgame press conference, and hopes to improve even more on his defensive skills over the course of the season. Perimeter defense is where the Cats will miss Jershon Cobb. Cobb is an excellent on-ball defender, and without him, the burden falls on a backcourt more known its for offensive ability.
How much of an impact can Jared Swopshire make?
After four years of floundering at Louisville, Swopshire found a home as a leader on NU. With his experience, the senior is a useful asset to this team. Swopshire can knock down shots, rebound fairly well and maintain good defense. Will that translate to him taking over games? When Big Ten play begins, keep a close eye on Swopshire. The Cats hope he can drive the lane – even against bigger competition. If he settles into an outside game, that spells trouble.
Can Crawford meet the lofty expectations?
There is one thing about Crawford that receives very little media attention. The senior improved in each of his first three seasons. He developed a respectable defensive game and increased his scoring output. Not to mention: he raised his three-point field goal percentage by nine points from his sophomore to junior season. This team misses Shurna, but no doubt the obvious candidate to fill the void will play a major role. When games are on the line, the Cats need Drew to help pull out wins. Much of their tournament hopes rest on his shoulders.
How deep will the rotation be?
I've mentioned this before. It may be Carmody's biggest challenge. Last year, he only needed to work with a limited cast. This season, he could play as many as 11 guys consistently. Mike Turner has stepped into the backup center role, and new faces including Sanjay Lumpkin may even figure into the equation. Against weaker opponents, it's hard to tell what he has in mind. Tough decisions await.
Will the seniors stage a fight to the tournament?
As always, the potential for an NCAA Tournament bid looms large. The seniors have one final chance to leave their mark. One of the players to focus on is Alex Marcotullio. The senior has knocked down big shots throughout his career. Overall, though, he took a step back last season. Marcotullio provides spark. Others provide leadership, which this team has in bulk. On talent alone, I hesitate to chalk NU into the tournament field. But with gutsy, clutch play from seniors, they would have a shot.
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