Northwestern hoops report card

Grading Northwestern basketball players through the first 10 games.

All grades are relative to expectations. James Montgomery III does not have a large enough sample size to this point.

Starters

Jershon Cobb: The junior guard returned after a yearlong suspension, with the team so badly needing his production. Chris Collins said before the year he could be the team's leading scorer; I laughed but he isn't far off. He's averaging 13.6 points per game – well above his career high – while upping his rebound numbers and continuing his strong defensive play. Better, he's been capable of handling the ball in relief of struggling point guard Dave Sobolewski. No one is more impressive in the early season. A

Sanjay Lumpkin: He might never be an ideal offensive threat. Still, Lumpkin emerged as a strong defensive player and rebounder. While prone to some freshman acts – like technical and flagrant fouls – much of his work isn't indicated by any box score. If he weren't forced to guard ridiculously talented opponents like T.J. Warren and Dwight Powell, his season might be even more impressive. But Lumpkin appears to be a solid long-term piece for Chris Collins — certainly nothing to discount. B+

Drew Crawford: Is he still partially injured? I think it's a possibility, given that back spasms linger and that Crawford is an absolute warrior. Regardless, he's been somewhat underwhelming at times — rarely taking over games as was expected. He's shooting only 29 percent in his last three games, but his rebounding average (7.3) is exceptional and the Wildcats look to him as their leader. They benefit from his presence and decent athleticism; he should definitely improve as the season progresses. B

Alex Olah: He can't really rebound and he can't really play defense. That said, he's a solid center. Snarky tone aside, Olah has failed to make the necessary improvements, shifting from effective to helpless depending on the strength of opponent. It was telling that Collins benched him for usual doghouse dweller Nikola Cerina in the team's most recent game. It's certainly time for Collins and his staff to look elsewhere for their future at center. The Wildcats traditionally have no luck at the position. C-

Dave Sobolewski: Take away the UIC win – his best game of the season – and Sobolewski is shooting 24 percent this season. That's almost unthinkably bad. Still, after being benched for former walk-on James Montgomery III, he walked onto the floor and chucked contested triples. Out of sync and lost in Collins' system – you have to believe there's tension – Sobolewski's career is on the decline. His assist-to-turnover ratio tanked, while famed Northwestern blog Lake the Posts riffed on the Wildcats' "point guard problem." Truth. D

Reserves

Tre Demps: PurpleWildcats.com finally endorsed Demps as a viable option. Just a redshirt sophomore, the once-maligned guard appears committed to improving his game. He's scoring an impressive 9.5 points per game at a 42 percent clip with above-average three-point shooting. He rarely turns the ball over – only 0.8 per contest – and seems to have settled into Collins' system much better than Sobolewski. With continued strong play, he should be starting, PW's Steven Goldstein wrote earlier this week. A-

Kale Abrahamson: Earlier this year, Abrahamson met with Collins and essentially requested more opportunities. In the time since, he's seen his role increase – perhaps by default – and tried to expand his game. I really like what he's done: set screens, play zealous (and not terrible) defense, dive for loose balls and jack three-point shots. This may be the unpopular opinion, but I'd rather have Abrahamson on this year's team than Nathan Taphorn. He looks motivated and polished, his prospects much better than they were earlier in the season. B

Nathan Taphorn: Not sold, but of course, it's early. The true freshman entered the season locked in competition for the fifth starter's role, eventually losing to Sanjay Lumpkin. (How was that a competition?) Despite media efforts to distance him from Abrahamson, Taphorn's numbers for the time being look similar to Kale's freshman statistics. He's shooting only 34 percent – 30 from behind the arc – with a slight turnover problem and an apparent lack of comfort in Collins' offense. This will change, but Taphorn hardly looks the part of "long-term piece" that we envisioned. C

Nikola Cerina: He can defend against bad teams. That's his role. Cerina, who it seemed Bill Carmody could not stand, continues to toil away near the bottom of NU's priority list. He can't effectively spell Olah at center, and his true power forward position hardly fits into Collins' mindset for big men. Playing just 11 minutes per game in his senior season, accepting Cerina's transfer from TCU was another questionable decision from the program. At one point and two rebounds per game, he's just another indication of this team's stunning lack of depth. C-


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