NU's new offense comes with mixed results

Michael Hlebasko breaks down the levels of offensive success from Northwestern players in the exhibition, analyzing the motion offense.

Northwestern started the Chris Collins era with a sedate 57-46 exhibition win over Lewis University. It was just an exhibition, so there was understandably some rust to shake off. For that reason, we shouldn't read too much into the sloppy contest in which neither team shot better than 36 percent. There was a lot that looked good for Northwestern, especially on defense, but there were several concerns, to go along with some positives, on the offensive side.

Nate Taphorn looked strong in his Northwestern debut. He hit both of his three-point attempts and got to the line to knock down four free throws. He looked very comfortable for a true freshman playing in his first collegiate game, and flashed potential to score inside and out.

Drew Crawford faded at times but finished with 15 points on 11 attempts. Most importantly for Northwestern, Crawford came up big twice late in the game when Lewis was threatening to close the gap. He got to the line just after the four-minute mark with Lewis on a run, and then hit a dagger three after Lewis cut the lead to 6 with just under two minutes remaining. If the Wildcats are going to win close games this year, they will need Crawford to make plays down the stretch, which he did tonight.

The rest of the offense, however, was uninspiring. Northwestern got little from Dave Sobolewski and Alex Olah. Sobo went 1-of-6 from the field and had just four assists to three turnovers. He generally didn't look threatening, but he will likely be playing nearly 40 minutes per game this season — so he could be forgiven for keeping his foot off the gas in the exhibition. Olah opened the game hot, scoring from the line and with a layup in the first four minutes. He didn't score after that, against a Lewis team that had no player listed over 6'8". He didn't assert himself on the block, and while his teammates probably could have fed the post more, Olah needs to do a better job giving them an open target if the offense is going to have balance.

Jershon Cobb looked like he is intent on becoming the first or second option offensively, and was good at times. He didn't fare well in his turn as the secondary ball handler, although it is a new role for him at this level. Cobb is also one of the players who would benefit the offense greatly by being more active off the ball. In general, the Wildcats looked to screen and cut in a free flowing manner on offense, but they were unable to generate quality looks at the basket.

We know that this team isn't full of guys who can attack and create off the dribble, and this makes quality screening and cutting crucial for their success in the half court. Often in the game against Lewis, screeners were just standing in the vicinity of defenders rather than hitting them, and players were cutting through the lane without making themselves threats to the defense. The emphasis on this play off the ball is encouraging for the future, but it may take the Wildcats a while to get used to using their freedom on offense to make plays. Northwestern had 12 turnovers to just eight assists, and that ratio obviously needs to improve.

Northwestern appeared rusty on the offensive end, but it was just the exhibition opener. They need to get better off the ball, and do a better job getting offense going towards the basket. There probably isn't a guy on this team besides Drew Crawford who is going to regularly score in the mid to high teens, so players creating for each other is going to be necessary. Northwestern did not that well against Lewis, but there is certainly some potential here should the offense jell. We'll have a better idea how close they are to doing that after the game against Eastern Illinois on Saturday.


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