Five Thoughts: NU-Illinois State

Thoughts on Kale Abrahamson and new-look lineups following NU's stunning loss to Illinois State.

Kale Abrahamson might have earned his spot on Northwestern. When Nate Taphorn briefly left the game with a minor injury, Abrahamson filled in — looking like he had something to prove. And he did: the sophomore appeared to be the ninth man on a team with eight relevant players. Yet on this passive team defined by frequent offensive struggles, Abrahamson established position and found open spots on the floor. He went two-of-four from behind the arc, and likely could have had more with improved ball distribution. Given the new foul rules and the team's overall struggles, I'd advise Chris Collins to try Abrahamson, at least for a dozen minutes per game.

— I'm excited for Steven Goldstein's upcoming profile of Tre Demps, but you could certainly sympathize with the embattled guard on Sunday night. Demps tried to facilitate some offense, and who cares if it was for himself? The redshirt sophomore scored eight points on a reasonable 3-of-7 shooting and honored Collins' faith in him. He also provided some speed and spark on both ends of the floor. There's a long way to go, but Demps carved out a pretty clear role on this 2013-14 team. In the future, who knows?

— Alex Olah has regressed in the first three games this season. He's loaded with potential, but that upside is missing. The sophomore is failing to adjust to these new foul rules, which partially explains his inability to find success in the early season. Olah picked up three early first-half fouls, two of which were obvious and definitely unacceptable. This team doesn't have any semblance of big man depth, so Collins needs Olah to find his rhythm sooner rather than later. Nikola Cerina simply lacks the size to defend impressive opposing centers.

— Jershon Cobb showed off his strengths and weakness, all at the same time. He's one of the more aggressive attackers for Northwestern, and made 11-of-14 from the free throw line. Then again, he struggled to assert himself otherwise, missing eight of 10 field goal attempts with his mediocre jump shot. He's not comfortable leading a productive offense (no one is) and wasn't as strong as he usually is defensively. Still, Cobb's an absolutely essential player for Northwestern — and with improvements could be something even better.

— I'm intrigued by any lineup without Alex Olah and Nikola Cerina. At one point, you wondered which of Kale Abrahamson, Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin was playing center. Regardless, against a smaller lineup, it worked fine. Abrahamson and Demps miraculously led a comeback effort. The team placed clear emphasis on rebounding, especially Crawford, who collected seven on the night. Collins made even more interesting adjustments, with James Montgomery worked in for late-game defensive substitutions. This team is laboring through the early season; Collins will need to be creative if he hopes to salvage any potential success.

— A bonus sixth: You saw it. It was the worst non-conference loss for Northwestern in recent memory, against a team that lost once by 38 and once to Drexel missing its six best players from last season. Not something that should ever happen.

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