Five Thoughts: Northwestern-Michigan State

Publisher Nick Medline with five thoughts following Northwestern's loss to No. 9 Michigan State.

— Kudos to Jershon Cobb, who continues to improve in what is perhaps his first healthy season for Northwestern. The shooting guard appeared comfortable as an enhanced scoring threat against Michigan State, working his perimeter jump shot to facilitate an even better midrange game. Often times, in this advanced analytics era, we're hesitant to praise guys who can knock down floaters and lower percentage 15-footers. Cobb, however, happily steps just inside the line and finds some success. It's been nice to watch his development. Before the season, I doubted whether he could become the second option. He's there, and with one year left of eligibility, his future for this team is promising.

— Writers can be wrong. We're not coaches or evaluators and can miss on guys, especially during the non-conference season. Case in point: Sanjay Lumpkin. For a while, against weaker opponents, he looked like one of the team's best and most consistent players. He defends well above his size, and made Stanford forward Josh Huestis's life miserable. I made some pretty extreme comments in favor of Lumpkin; now I'm doubting them. He can defend, yes, but when it comes to future season, there's no way he can possibly fit in with a more up-tempo offensive attack. Like Sobolewski on defense, he's a liability on one end of the floor. We're sold on Collins as the coach, but this "defense-first" approach is fleeting, and that could leave Lumpkin on the outside.

— Next year's NU squad, I can safely say, looks like a bubble team. I've watched many of the recruits, including point guard Bryant McIntosh, countless times. These guys can transform the face of Northwestern basketball. That said, tonight was a reminder of how important the postseason transfer market will be. Perhaps NU will make the NIT. At this point, I think not, but what's more important is that they shore up the frontcourt with a big move. There should be some more midseason silence on that front, but when power forwards and centers think of other options, NU will be on it. The Cerina-Olah combination did nothing to stop an excellent Big Ten frontcourt on Thursday, and Collins is left with one important recruiting move to close out his first class. Jared Swopshire 2.0?

— You could make the argument that Sunday's game against Minnesota will be the most important contest of the season for Northwestern. Lose, and you fall to 5-8, stuck with more difficult games—including a deceptively tough road game at Nebraska. Win, and you move to 6-7, with five more regular season games to stake a potential NIT berth. Most important, NU needs to return to the same sort of confident, team-oriented play that defined its run. Even when its opponents are making shots, Cobb and Drew Crawford can match them for a while. It's more about the Wildcats sustaining a 40-minute effort and keeping opponents in check defensively. In all honesty, there's no way this group is a top-20 defensive unit. But with the sample size small (5 games left), they can put together the type of resume no one expected. And Minnesota is very, very beatable—as they proved already.

— I haven't expressed this in full: I'm not optimistic about Nate Taphorn's career at Northwestern. He's so far behind defensively, to the point where he's an immediate liability anytime he takes the floor. If the shots aren't constantly falling—and they have not–he's left without a very specific role on this team. With better shooters and, frankly, better players joining the team in future seasons, Carmody's last recruit might struggle to find his spot. It's not about his lack of potential; it's more about the fact that Collins' recruits arrive shortly. Those guys will get the playing time.

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