Despite nine turnovers against Delaware State, Northwestern has largely done a good job taking care of the ball. That starts with Dave Sobolewski, who's assisted on 25 baskets and turned it over only twice. There's a calm air about this team, thanks in large part to its veteran leadership, and as a result they've played mostly under control.
As a team, Northwestern has assisted on an impressive 94 of 115 field goals, about 82 percent of its baskets. That speaks to the success of the Princeton offense, based upon quick cuts and finding teammates for open threes. The Wildcats are getting their looks in the flow of the offense and playing unselfishly. Though the Princeton will be more familiar to Big Ten opponents, it's nice to see NU's new players integrate successfully.
Head coach Bill Carmody loves his "make shots" mantra, and the Wildcats have done just that through four games. They've shot an outstanding 43.5 percent from downtown, with several three-point threats keeping defenses honest.
So far, Reggie Hearn has been noticeably more consistent, burying 12 of 19 shots from outside. Dave Sobolewski has rediscovered his jumper and Drew Crawford, when he's right is just as deadly. Jared Swopshire has had his moments from behind the arc, and both Alex Marcotullio and Kale Abrahamson love the long-ball off the bench.
Clearly Northwestern has yet to face equally talented opposition, but when open threes are falling, they count no matter the opponent. Though it's unlikely they'll maintain such a high clip, it bodes well long-term that NU's shooters are feeling comfortable. Though living and dying by the three is a difficult way to play night in and night out, so far it's been smooth sailing for the Wildcats from outside.
Defensively, Northwestern has struggled at times, particularly with opposing guards. Delaware State's Tahj Tate went for 23 points, and last week Mississippi Valley State's Davon Usher had 35. In Jershon Cobb's absence, someone has to step up for the Wildcats defensively.
Both Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire have looked the part at times, and there's no reason both can't have success, but against higher-quality players NU could find itself exposed. The return of Sanjay Lumpkin from mononucleosis, expected in the next week or two, gives Carmody another long defender and could give this club a lift.
On the interior, Alex Olah has improved through two games but still tends to flail his arms instead of using his seven-foot frame to his advantage. Mike Turner has played important minutes but still tends to foul too much and leave his feet on fakes. The continued development of the two freshman bigs could make or break a team that has allowed too many easy looks around the rim.
Consistency from Crawford and Olah
The good Drew Crawford showed up against Delaware State, with 17 points and seven rebounds. After two rough games, it was good to see him pick it up and play the way he's capable. He'll have to remain aggressive and look for his shot for Northwestern to hang with better teams.
Freshman center Alex Olah's growing pains continued with a rough first half. Though he settled down later, Olah has had his share of freshman moments—at times he looks like a vet, at others a step or two behind his teammates. Unquestionably an improvement over Luka Mirkovic or Davide Curletti, how quickly and to what degree Olah improves this year is crucial to Northwestern's hopes.
What to look for in South Padre Island:
Much was made of Northwestern's depth before the season, but it's been largely underwhelming thus far. Carmody apparently agrees, leaning heavily on the seniors and Sobolewski for minutes even against these small-conference opponents. He'll likely do the same over the weekend, but admitted that minutes were still in flux.
Against Delaware State, Tre Demps played only seven minutes and Kale Abrahamson three, while Sobolewski played 37 and Crawford the entire game. As Northwestern heads into its first set of back-to-back games, pay attention to how Carmody uses his bench.
Can this team rebound against bigger and stronger teams? They won the battle against Delaware State, but haven't always been convincing on the glass even with Olah and Swopshire in the lineup. Hearn and Crawford have chipped in significantly, but all eyes are on the big men as Northwestern attempts to address last year's most glaring weakness
With Nikola Cerina set to miss what sounds like extended time, Northwestern can answer a lot of questions this weekend with decisive victories on the glass. Though neither TCU nor Illinois State rebound outstandingly, a strong effort from Northwestern will help ease those concerns.