Five Thoughts: Northwestern-Minnesota

Michael Hlebasko with five thoughts the day after Northwestern's close loss to Minnesota.

-- The offense was even worse than usual, especially in the second half. Players not named Jershon Cobb shot 8-of-40 for Northwestern. Cobb finished with 23, just less than half of Northwestern's total. The worst part of the offensive performance is that they were pretty good on offense in the first half, finishing the 28 points and exhibiting solid ball movement, especially in the first ten minutes. After that, the offense stagnated in just about every way. I've said many times that while tempo in particular isn't a problem, this team moves too slowly in general, which was on full display against Minnesota. I understand that they want to shorten the game, but too many possessions feature significant amounts of time where nobody does anything. Olah and Lumpkin consistently give the defense too much time to recover before shooting the ball near the rim, and open players routinely receive the ball too late to maximize slow defensive rotations. The offense generated several quality looks at jump shots, but this isn't a good outside shooting team. At this point in the season, they have very little to lose by looking to attack the rim earlier in possessions. They would run the risk of giving up more points on defense, but cultivating a better offensive outlook would pay major dividends in the future.

-- Kale Abrahamson's development seems to have grinded to a halt. In the seven games since the Indiana win, he has 17 total points and has been held scoreless on four separate occasions. Abrahamson plays with much more energy and tenacity on both ends when he sees the ball go in, and while he will always be a limited defender and rebounder, he can be competent in both arenas when he's fully engaged. Abrahamson's struggles, especially on defense, have seen his minutes shrink, but Northwestern hasn't promoted Nate Taphorn to fill the gap, instead relying on the rest of the existing rotation to produce. The state of this team's roster means that they need either Abrahamson or Taphorn to play a lot of minutes and consistently give them something, anything, on offense. If Abrahamson can't do it, then Taphorn needs to get a chance. Sacrificing the development of both players for the possibility of one or two extra wins this season is not a good trade.

-- Northwestern has been under its season average of 11 turnovers in four of its last six games, and has had an assist to turnover ratio of one or better in all 6. The latter should be true every game, but so many times early this season the team turned the ball over more than they created field goals for each other. The improvement in ball security is encouraging, especially with ample help at point guard coming next year. Ideally, this program won't have to depend on any current player to be the primary ball handler next year, but the development of those skills in Cobb and Demps (and even Lumpkin to an extent) will be a big help to Chris Collins as he seeks to turn this team into a good offensive club next season.

-- Although Alex Olah has definitely improved on the offensive end, I think we all hoped he would be a better rebounder by now. His positioning, boxing out, and judgment of the flight of the ball are all lacking. Olah is third on the team in rebounds, and only .3 per game ahead of JerShon Cobb who sits in fourth place. Olah's rebounding struggles impact the team in many ways. The need for Crawford, Cobb, and Lumpkin to all aggressively hit the glass further diminishes the team's ability to get transition buckets, which they are already awful at doing. It also puts even more stress on Cobb and Crawford, who have to use the bulk of the team's offensive possessions and are relied upon to be defensive stoppers. Playing a starting lineup with one player who can't rebound his position is surmountable, but adding in Abrahamson the Wildcats have two. It makes almost every phase of the game more difficult for Northwestern.

-- For all the problems with Northwestern's recent performances, there were positives against Minnesota. They played one half of great defense, and even as they failed to prevent Minnesota from getting good looks in the second half they were able to force enough turnovers to keep the game close. If either Tre Demps or Drew Crawford shot decently tonight, Northwestern could easily have escaped with a win against a team that looks headed for the NCAA Tournament. Coach Collins's offensive sets yielded a ton of good outside looks (Collins and his staff clearly understand the value of corner threes), and getting good shots is the main thing you want a coach to be able to do offensively. This team needs to play well and catch a ton of breaks to beat good teams, and they didn't quite do either against Minnesota. I wouldn't call it a good performance, but I wouldn't call it a poor one either. After the trip to Ohio State on Wednesday, the schedule gets much easier the rest of the way. If Northwestern is able to pick up a few wins and show some signs of improvement, it will have been a successful season.

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