Lineup shift sends NU into finals break

Needing energy, Collins shifted his starting lineup in Saturday's win.

Try this one on: Nine games into his coaching career, Chris Collins benched the old era's starting point guard. He replaced Dave Sobolewski with former walk-on James Montgomery III — perhaps showing some lack of loyalty to Bill Carmody's roster.

Aside from his excellent game against UIC, Sobolewski is shooting just 24 percent from the season. He's struggling to lead the offense and play effective on-ball defense, while Jershon Cobb has ably done both of the above.

What we know is that Collins decided to change his starting rotation after the difficult loss to North Carolina State. And though it's impossible to judge the effects of this decision, Northwestern played its best game of the season in Saturday's 51-35 win against Western Michigan.

"I felt like we needed some more energy in the lineup," Collins said. "The one guy who hadn't had a chance was James. My instincts told me to give him a chance."

Montgomery III played solid, hard-nosed defense in the win. He logged nine total minutes and failed to score a basket, but Collins praised the senior — saying "it's hard not to go with him again" as starter.

"I wanted him to set the tone with his defense," Collins said. "He was all over the court… He might have been the most important part of us winning."

Hyperbolic or not, Collins showed his willingness to break up the starting lineup. Against NC State, he said the team didn't "fight" as much as it should have, so he rewarded diligent practice players and gave them an opportunity. Nikola Cerina – who appeared to be in the doghouse just weeks ago – started ahead of sophomore center Alex Olah.

Say what you will: Collins refuses to accept efforts like the one last Wednesday. No Northwestern player is entitled to any role — at least not when they're playing like this.

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