Sobolewski must strive for consistency

With his steady hand and leadership, Dave Sobolewski has become a vital piece of Northwestern's lineup. The bar has been set high after one and a half strong seasons. A game like Sobolewski had on Sunday -- zero points, zero assists -- cannot happen in this long season.

At his preseason press conference on Nov. 5, Bill Carmody delivered a gem.

"I really like the way Sobolewski is playing right now," he said. "He's not just being a little point guard from the 60s."

The idea was this. Back then – at least in Carmody's opinion – the floor general would pass the ball upon crossing half court and then disappear.

As good as Sobolewski was last season, his coach prepared for better. In his freshman year, the point guard led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. He made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. But naturally, people remember the shortcomings.

When it mattered most, the young point guard struggled. He missed all of his six field goal attempts in the heartbreaking Big Ten Tournament loss to Minnesota, and the Wildcats' tournament chances died unceremoniously. So when Carmody took the microphone before the season, he knew Sobolewski would not be the 60s point guard. He just couldn't disappear this season.

Granted, it was an uphill challenge trying to incorporate several new players. The point guard needed to learn their tendencies and help teach the offense. By all accounts, he did a phenomenal job. Freshman center Alex Olah said Sobolewski corrected his mistakes when necessary. He was a sophomore going on senior – and he understood the responsibility.

Only now are the difficulties and the realities catching up to Sobolewski. At times, he is visibly frustrated. A season that started out so promising has become a distant memory. You could easily argue he was the best player on the team early in the season, even with Drew Crawford in the lineup. Sobolewski distributed the ball and proved to be an emotional catalyst. It was the scrappy point guard who led the Wildcats to the stunning win at Baylor.

Just a game later, the team lost Crawford. Unprepared freshmen were thrown into the starting lineup. And Sobolewski kept urging them on.

He's always out there. Panic sets in for Carmody when he's not. In the revolving door of Northwestern players, Sobolewski serves as the constant. When he struggles, the team follows suit.

On Sunday, the point guard may have had the worst game of his career. He played 28 minutes and failed to establish himself in the 62-41 loss. His final line: no points, no assists. Despite the low expectations for this team due to injuries, fans and teammates are accustomed to counting on him. The pressure on any Big Ten point guard is immense. For Sobolewski, it's particularly noticeable.

"He's just going to have overcome it," Carmody said of the struggles. "And he will."

Seasons of NU basketball can age players. Pieces are in flux – this year because of academics and injuries – and that takes its toll. Expectations run high, and the hopes of Madness never fade. It's understandable.

The tournament hopes are delayed until next season. But Sobolewski has an opportunity in front of him. The young guys are coming together. Kale Abrahamson and Tre Demps are gaining valuable experience, which will be crucial to next year's team. Mike Turner has learned to contribute solid minutes as an undersized center. Sobolewski and Crawford will be the veterans and leaders of next year's team. And only Sobolewski will have had consistent time to work with them. These tournament teams that have success are guided by steady hands.

It's been a trying few months for Northwestern. Overmatched in terms of talent, this team competes with intangibles. When things fall apart, you have games like Sunday – a 21-point loss that seemed a hundred times worse than the final score. You can only imagine how the point guard feels when the shots don't fall. This is a long season.

Sobolewski is about universally respected for his hard-nosed play and for his leadership. This team, though, counts on his production every game. To compete, the Wildcats need him to finish strong. They need him to discover his consistency.

Dave Sobolewski no longer resembles the old-school point guard content to abandon the spotlight. He'll be counted on to help this team reach its ultimate goal.

He set the bar high. And when those crucial minutes arrive once more, Sobolewski cannot slip away quietly.

He's at the center of it all.

Follow on Twitter: @NicholasMedline

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