My theme all off-season was on the importance of NU developing depth to compete in the rugged Big Ten. Tonight’s 99-47 exhibition win over Robert Morris probably doesn’t reveal a lot about Northwestern, but it does show the ‘Cats might have some quality depth on their bench which certainly didn’t exist the last several seasons.
Thanks to ankle injuries to Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb still slowed from his hip-injury, NU went pretty young and inexperienced in the starting lineup. Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewksi got the call at the guards and Reggie Hearn saw his first serious action as a starter at small forward. All three looked very good. I know it was action against an NAIA school, but Robert Morris is a very good NAIA school. An NAIA school that was good enough to beat a solid NU team a few years back. I liked how all three hung in with the level of athleticism that RMU but on the court and seemed to play with control for the most part. Demps may have fired up a few ill-advised shots, but I think he’s a good enough player that some of those are going to go in from time to time. Plus, Demps, who I thought was more of the pure-scorer of the two freshmen guards, showed a nice three point shot making 3-of-4. He also dished out 3 assists to only 1 turnover. Sobolewski, who I thought was the more of the pure-shooter, didn’t disappoint as a shooter as he made both his three point shots and looked solid from the free-throw line sinking 7-of-9 charity strip shots. He also had 2 assists to 0 turnovers. Hearn got in on the action from three making 1-of-2 and in passing handing out 4 assists to 1 turnover. I also just felt like he showed great understanding of the offense. He seemed to find himself in position to make or pass to teammates for easy shots. I don’t know if we’ll see much Reggie Hearn in regular season games, but I think he’s clearly a valuable player to have on the team.
Nick Fruendt came off the bench in NU’s guard/small forward rotation and led the ‘Cats in scoring with 17 points. Fruendt is a good shooter and he showed it by going 4-for-4 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line. With that type of offensive ability you’d expect to see Fruendt finally become a consistent contributor, but I think it’ll be his defensive progress which we’ll have to keep an eye on to see if he can crack double-digit minutes when the Big Ten season starts.
The NU front court starters were mainstays John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic. Shurna looked solid in his 19 minutes and finished with 12 points. Luka only played 17 minutes, but he grabbed 5 rebounds, dished out 5 assists (a huge asset in a Princeton-style center) and hit a three. He’s a decent three point shooter and I think the center position needs to make at least 3 threes a game against NU’s tougher opponents for the ‘Cats to have the best chance to pull out W’s in those contests.
Off the bench in the front court I was really pleased with Davide Curletti who scored 16 points, notched 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. His only real failing was only hitting 3-of-6 free throws. I really like Davide’s shot and I think he shot make a much higher percentage. I’ve also got to give a big thumbs up to freshman Mike Turner who I think is a legit Big Ten athlete. He might need some work on his basketball skills, but I liked how he hit the glass (8 rebounds) and just his overall hustle approach. Will he play much this season? Maybe not. Still, he’s got a future that I see as pretty bright. Walk-on James Montgomery III seemed similar as well as he blocked 2 shots, scored 2 points, and had 2 assists. He looks quick as well and might take a Hearn like route to being a contributor someday.
Overall, every Wildcat who played looked as if they could play. Even with competition that wasn’t Big Ten caliber that’s saying something when compared with past NU teams. The ‘Cats start regular season play on Sunday. The big question is how healthy are Cobb, Marcotullio, and Crawford, but seeing the talent on the court with those guys out, I’m confident that ‘Cats have enough depth they’ll be able to compete in the Big Ten this season once their roster returns to full strength. As it stands, they should be able to compete with Texas-Pan American on Sunday as they are, but we’d like to see the full crew ready for LSU in a week and a half.