Five Thoughts: NU returns to face MVSU

The Wildcats return from a nine-day break against Mississippi Valley State on Monday night.

— I don't care about the extent of Jershon Cobb's sprained ankle. Chris Collins should not think about playing him until the DePaul game on Dec. 27. This team has nothing serious to play for; that's already clear at this point of the season. A surprise loss to MVSU or Brown would just be another difficult loss. But they shouldn't lose, and this would provide a perfect opportunity for younger players to showcase their ability and earn significant minutes. There are three guys in particular that I'm watching during these next two games.

Nate Taphorn has not been very good. Everything coming out of summer practice indicated he would fight for major minutes — and perhaps even a starting position. With the hype gone, he's looking like your standard, timid Northwestern freshman. I'm not accusing him of underachieving because this seems natural. Still, it would be nice for Taphorn to stake out a clear role heading into next year's defining campaign. It was telling that he played only four minutes against Western Michigan. He'll be an integral part of this team – at least in future season – but the coaching staff can expect better now.

Tre Demps is, without question, the most improved player for Northwestern this season. As some correctly predicted, he's more comfortable in Collins' offense, which grants him more freedom. Sure, Demps is an elite "garbage time" scorer, but his 42 percent shooting and 9.5 points per game are impressive numbers regardless. He's also turning the ball over just about once every 26 minutes, with benched point guard Dave Sobolewski doing so once every 11. If the offensive efficiency – and improved defense – keeps up for Demps, the sophomore could fight for increased playing time.

— This is the most important stretch of Dave Sobolewski's career. He could wilt, struggle, and find himself permanently benched. He could come off the bench, make shots and displays shreds of confidence. Or, he could learn how to best run this offense and at least make it less obvious that Bryant McIntosh will come in and steal the starting job within mere minutes. I'm predicting the second, believing that his struggles are unsustainable. He'll raise his shooting percentage and lower his turnover average, we can assume. But can he return to his old form? Against cupcake opponents, he'll look to find it.

— Other thoughts: Any win is a good win for this team; blowout wins are always welcome. // This is another game that Alex Olah should simply dominate on the interior. Anything less and we're looking at, well, Alex Olah. // Drew Crawford is due for a mammoth game, but we'll hope that waits until DePaul or Wisconsin. // Again: Sit JerShon Cobb. Period. // On another note, it's been an incredible week for NU basketball recruits, with McIntosh putting on a clutch performance, Vic Law putting up 20 points and 21 rebounds, and long-time target Evan Boudreaux erupting for 39 points this weekend.

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