The Wildcats currently stand at 7-1 after eight games. They have two pre-conference games remaining followed by 18 Big Ten games as well as an out of conference game vs Chicago State on February 4th. If you assume the Wildcats will also play at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament, and I think that’s a reasonable assumption, the Wildcats will play 31 games before the end of the season. That means that currently the ‘Cats are just past the ¼ mark of the year. As a result, I want to look at three areas of strength and three areas where I see room for improvement.
3 Positives from the season’s first quarter:
John Shurna: This kid has made a major impact as a freshman starter. He has the ability to step back and hit a three (41%), but also isn’t afraid to go inside to score. In addition, he battles for offensive rebounds (17) as well as any NU player in recent memory. Most importantly, his ability to play power forward has made Kevin Coble able to play the small forward position which seems to make Coble far more comfortable.
Three Point-Shooting: The three point shot is, as often discussed, a key aspect of the Princeton Offense. In the past, some of Coach Carmody’s most talented teams have been hamstrung by the fact they were not good shooting teams. This year’s squad is by far the best shooting group Carmody has had in Evanston. Overall the team shoots 41.6% and has four starters (Coble, Moore, Shurna, Thompson) who shoot over 40% individually.
Defense: NU has in the past been adept at getting steals (led the Big Ten 2 years ago), but has not in the past excelled in defending opponents if they get a shot off. This year the Wildcats are doing a much better job contesting shots from both inside and behind the arc. Inside wise, both Coble and Shurna have 9 blocks. Outside, NU has held opponents to only 29% from behind the three point line.
3 areas of possible improvement:
Free Throw Shooting: NU’s free throw shooting has to be a major concern at this point. Even the team’s top shooters Coble (52.2%) and Moore (68.4%) have struggled from the line. Overall the ‘Cats are at only 65.2%. That’s not acceptable when you consider most games in the Big Ten will be close. You need to make free throws to win close games.
Inconsistency in playing time: NU has yet to arrive at a set rotation this season. Last time out vs UMKC three starters played 37 minutes or more. Earlier in the year, Coach Carmody played 12 guys in the first half. The actual rotation should probably be somewhere in between these extremes, but Carmody needs to develop a more consistent rotation soon or it could start getting into the players heads. It’s hard to come off the bench at a key time against Michigan State if you’ve only played 2 minutes in the game before.
The PA System at Welsh-Ryan Arena: I’m not sure this likely to improve anytime soon, but Welsh-Ryan’s PA system is brutal. I sit pretty close to the floor and can’t hear a thing. I think some of the new items the marketing department is doing this year seem cool. For example, I really like the concept of the “Early Bird of The Game” interview, but I can barely hear it. I’m always trying to think of a fundraising project which could led to some money for the NU athletic department to improve the PA, but I’ll admit those system are several hundred thousand dollars and I’m sure other team-specific areas of improvement get priority. Still, I’d like to hear what the PA guy has to say.