The loss of Jershon Cobb posed an immediate challenge to the Wildcats' depth this season. In the first few games, several newcomers showed promise – an indication that this NU team had tournament hopes. But then, injuries struck, beginning in minor ways.
First, athletic freshman Sanjay Lumpkin suffered from mono, a setback to a young core looking to make a significant impact. Then, transfer Nikola Cerina – a strong rebounding presence – injured his ankle and is only now easing his way into action.
Worst, senior Drew Crawford could not overcome a torn labrum and chose to undergo season-ending surgery. While Crawford expects to earn a medical redshirt – making him eligible for next season – many lost optimism regarding the team's 2013 prospects.
There have been some positives. Young players stepped up in recent games, including Kale Abrahamson. Demps emerged as a consistent scoring threat, reaching double figures in five of the past six games. Still, the team's recent slump can be attributed to a brutal stretch of injuries.
Hearn hits ceiling
One of the most downplayed stories on this team involves Reggie Hearn. The former walk-on broke out last season as a hustle player and decent scorer. His 7.4 points and 3.7 rebounds could have marked his peak as a player.
But in the absence of Cobb and numerous veterans, Hearn improved his all-around game. He averages 14.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game and has shot 42 percent from behind the arc.
He inspires his teammates. Demps said that Hearn is a model for young players on the team. He hustles, plays effective defense and maximizes his potential.
Not only that, Hearn has been consistent, reaching double figures in every game except for the season opener – in which he played just 23 minutes. He shot poorly in only one of the first 13 games, an impressive mark no doubt.
The season might be difficult, but regardless, Hearn is an excellent story. Expect continued gutsy performances and eventually, an emotional Senior Day for the team's most valuable player thus far.
The promising Olah
Look, Alex Olah is just a freshman. He has made his share of defensive lapses and taken his share of ill-advised shots.
In recent weeks, he avoided falling into foul trouble and hurting his team. He has just one game in which he turned the ball over more than twice.
Sure, the talent is raw. He admits that he needs to improve on the defensive end and haul in more rebounds. But I'll take three more years of Olah any day.
As Tavaras Hardy said heading into the season: "As long as he keeps working hard, the sky is the limit." Hard to argue with that.
The true leader
Dave Sobolewski arrived at Northwestern with large shoes to fill. The universally loved Juice Thompson captivated fans with excellent guard play. And Sobolewski went to work in his freshman year, leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. Though he struggled late in the season, it was a successful year.
This season, he added to his repertoire by leading the new freshman class. Olah pointed to Sobolewski as a strong leader, which can easily be seen on the court.
The sophomore provided an emotional spark against Baylor, continues to demand – and receive – more from his teammates. The point guard faces an especially difficult role given the number of new faces on this team. Leadership is especially important, and Sobolewski gives the team just that.
Not only that, he improved his game on both sides of the ball. His defense, once considered a liability, aided his team in the win at Baylor. Plus, his offensive efficiency has improved. He is shooting 46 percent from the field, including a solid 44 percent clip from downtown.
Despite the team's recent struggles, with Sobolewski at the helm (and Jaren Sina in the 2013 class), the future at point guard seems bright.
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