Five Thoughts: NU-Eastern Illinois

Five thoughts from NU-Eastern Illinois, with notes on Taphorn, Lumpkin and more.

— Despite the eight-point, eight-rebound line, Alex Olah seemed to struggle once again. He's not comfortable in this offensive rotation, and when the ball entered the post, the possession too often faded. To succeed in year one, Chris Collins needs Olah to make "the leap," and the sophomore center looked timid against Lewis and Eastern Illinois. There are some things I like, including his deliberate post moves—especially the one to start yesterday's game. But overall, he's still making the same defensive lapses that plagued him throughout his freshman year. His backup, Nikola Cerina, faced foul trouble in the season opener. Barring similar results, expect Cerina to eat into Olah's minutes if the same trends continue.

— Almost everyone surrounding the program raves about Nate Taphorn. The freshman shows poise, excellent communication and already looks to be an integral piece to Collins' teams over the next four years. However, there's minimal opportunity for him to "ease in." The Wildcats could use him immediately, and that involves a more aggressive offensive approach. Taphorn's an excellent three-point shooter, yes, but he can also work the ball inside. He only attempted four shots in 25 minutes—far too low a number given the team's lack of offensive firepower. Yesterday, Drew Crawford seemed like the only viable scoring option. They need a second, and that can rotate from game-to-game. I'd like to see Taphorn impose his will on opponents, and to round out his offensive skillset through in-game practice.

— I'm officially buying the lineup with Jershon Cobb at point guard. He had eight assists yesterday, and although statistics can be misleading, Cobb showed surprising comfort as a playmaker. It was the first glimpse of his offseason improvements, which appear to have been significant. It's honestly quite the story. Following the yearlong suspension, Cobb returned more focused than ever—with his defense equally excellent. I said this before the season: His value will arrive more through the intangibles, distribution and defense than his offensive game—which lacks polish. If he can knock down the occasional three and maintain his improved court vision, we're looking at someone who should start ahead of Dave Sobolewski.

— I thought that Chris Collins expertly navigated the foul difficulties on his team. He never panicked, even pulling out the sad-but-necessary lineup without any center. Many first-time head coaches would have shown visible frustration during any kind of 15-0 run, but Collins' team continues to exit the locker room motivated. They're playing extremely hard, and although I have immense respect for Bill Carmody, you could make a convincing argument that this team is energized by the newfound program hype. From a tactical standpoint, he's doing well—aside from letting Tre Demps play 17 more inefficient minutes. Speaking of efficiency, any advanced statistics? He might as well have Kale Abrahamson stand there and make entry passes instead.

— Reasons you should invest in making Sanjay Lumpkin your favorite player:
The perimeter defense: He (and Cobb more so) are factoring into opponents' disastrous three-point shooting totals. Despite the small sample size, two-for-25 seems like a fairly telling line. Lumpkin represents the defensive emphasis from Collins—and should hang onto his starter's role permanently.
The rebounding: Lumpkin rebounds especially well for his size and position. He gives the team necessary flexibility and can adopt the hybrid 2-3-4 role valued by Collins. Yesterday, he had only two boards—but he'll be able to haul in more when needed against bigger lineups.
The shooting: I didn't expect this one. Lumpkin appears to be a very confident three-point shooter. That adds another dimension to an offense that, as I keep saying, lacks firepower and fluidity. Though his awkward motion might be prevent him from hitting contested jumpers, continued strong shooting would be valuable.

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