Five Thoughts: Northwestern-Wisconsin

Michael Hlebasko with five thoughts after the Wisconsin loss.

— Although the defense looked good to start the game, things fell apart quickly for Northwestern — especially on the interior. Alex Olah was unable to defend without fouling, and was also largely unable to both rotate and protect the rim while simultaneously remaining in a position to prevent Wisconsin's big men from dominating on the offensive glass. Northwestern eventually evened up the count on offensive rebounds at nine, but the Wildcats were outrebounded by eleven overall. And though Olah was fantastic offensively, he was less than convincing defensively and only had six rebounds. Sanjay Lumpkin had only two rebounds, and as the Wildcats' opponents become bigger and more athletic, it's going to get progressively harder for Lumpkin to pitch in as a post presence. Nikola Cerina was largely ineffective on both ends during his nine minutes, and it appears that the 'Cats simply don't have any options to spell Olah. Teams will increasingly look to beat Northwestern inside, and probably be increasingly successful in doing so.

— Northwestern was just 3-of-16 from three-point range, and for the most part struggled to get clean looks from behind the arc. At times during the first half, the offense was able to generate strong looks from the mid-range (although Northwestern was generally unable to convert them). Still, they were almost completely unable to find good looks from behind the arc. This is largely because of the Wildcats' inability to create off the dribble, along with their lack of emphasis on feeding the post early in the half court. Unfortunately, the Wildcats' struggles to get to the rim offensively are also leading to a paucity of quality three-point attempts.

— Six-of-23 shooting, four assists and four turnovers from the duo of Drew Crawford and Jershob Cobb is unacceptable. Wildcats fans can only hope that Jershon Cobb wasn't fully ready to return from his injury and will improve as the Big Ten schedule continues. However, since his 8-assist effort in the season opener against Eastern Illinois, Cobb has had more than 2 assists just twice. Especially since Cobb has been trusted as a secondary ball handler for significant stretches of time this season, this is discouraging for Northwestern. If neither Drew nor Jershon is a threat off the dribble, blowouts like the Wisconsin game may become disturbingly commonplace this season.

— Twitter was popping off during the game about whether a Bill Carmody team would have kept the game closer. Such talk is largely pointless for many reasons, chief among which is the concept of judging Collins' coaching acumen based on players recruited specifically for Carmody's system. However, it is Collins' responsibility to give this team as good a chance at competing in games this season as he can without sacrificing future success. To do so, he has to be willing to be flexible in what he does on offense at times. Even if the team is looking to become better at scoring by driving, passing, and cutting, when Alex Olah is playing effectively in the post, he should be getting more touches. No matter how far south things go for Northwestern this season, it won't be fair to say Chris Collins is a bad fit for the job. However, it is fair to evaluate what Collins does with his current roster, and a 27-point home loss is not good enough.

— One thing Northwestern has done pretty well this season is defending the three-point line. Wisconsin shot 5-of-16 from the field, just one percent better than what Northwestern was allowing opponents to shoot going into the game. At 30.2 percent, Northwestern's three-point defense is a slightly misleading 64th in the country. However, excudling the UCLA debacle, NU opponents are shooting just 25.7 percent from beyond the arc — which would be good for 6th in the country. Part of that is because teams don't need to concentrate on beating NU from deep, but the Wildcats' general effort in defending the three-point line has been impressive.


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