Five Thoughts: Northwestern-NC State

Some takeaways from the Wildcats' loss in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

— As convincing as the Cats have looked at times, they're still terribly mismatched against physical major-conference teams. Northwestern had some encouraging moments offensively in losses to Stanford, Missouri and UCLA, but seemingly nothing went right against the Wolfpack Wednesday in a 69-48 thumping. Much of the struggles were schematic: the Wildcats failed to hold position in interior zone defense, and settled for uninspired jumpers when they had the ball. Ugly as it's been thus far, this team has mostly exceeded expectations in the early going. Wednesday's trouncing was a needed reminder of how flat things can look if Northwestern doesn't get any early momentum. It was NU's ugliest loss of the season, and we should expect some more of these sprinkled in come conference play.

Alex Olah had a disastrous night, finishing just 1-of-7 with three turnovers and two points. The sophomore center was particularly bad when the Wildcats switched to a zone, and lost track of NC State's Jordan Vandenberg all game. Olah's seen his offensive efficient rating shoot up more than 30 points since last season, but if Northwestern is to keep up with the stacked interiors of Big Ten teams, he'll need to be more consistent: in wins this year, Olah's averaging 11 points; in losses, just 4.4.

— Speaking of Big Ten teams, will the Wildcats ever get to the lane this winter? NU was relegated to horrible long twos and mid-range jump shots all night, and the team shot a paltry 25 percent from the floor. Things were especially ugly for Jershon Cobb, who spoiled a streak of efficient games by going 0-for-7 Wednesday. Northwestern's spacing and ball movement looked sharp in the first few minutes, but with Vandenberg and T.J. Warren patrolling the paint, the Cats rarely got good looks attacking the rim. A lot of this falls on Drew Crawford, who forced on the outside and made just five of his 16 shots. Once again, the team panicked when its opponent went on a run, and nobody stepped up to make plays or open up driving lanes; NU had six total assists. Crawford or Sobolewski need to keep this team more patient and playing with a tempo during those tough stretches, rather than hoisting threes and bad jumpers.

— T.J. Warren is the real deal. Sanjay Lumpkin was bullied all night, finishing with no points and fouling out. It's a disconcerting theme that should only get more pronounced in conference play: bigger power forwards are able to torch Lumpkin, Crawford and whoever else is by the post. Northwestern's transition defense was great, but it's help defense was shaky to say the least.

— Chris Collins isn't going to use this rebuilding year as a crutch. Though the Cats have labored through their road games, Collins shows a fire that we never saw from Bill Carmody. Collins caught a technical for the first time in his career Wednesday, and that kind of passion is encouraging when things are as lopsided as it was tonight. JerShon Cobb was visibly frustrated too, after leaving with what appeared to be a leg injury. Disappointing of a loss as it was, Wednesday night appeared to be another constructive step in a long process.


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