The big story from Northwestern today is the effort to unionize from the football team led by Kain Colter. However, Northwestern will play two basketball games this week and following tough loss to Iowa on Saturday the Wildcats face even more tough competition this week as they battle Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The fact of the matter is until Northwestern starts to make more shots playing teams in the top half of the Big Ten will be very difficult. Playing great defense may keep games close, but when you play a team with more firepower that team eventually overpowers you. Part of the problem for Northwestern comes from players who are underachieving based on their career stats. Dave Sobolewski is shooting nearly 20% below his best career numbers in terms of three point percentage. Drew Crawford is 11% below his career high. Those are your two team captains and guys who two years ago could at least be relied on to hit a wide open three. I just want to be clear, I don’t really care if a guy misses a tough contested shot, but I can’t stand to see college basketball players who lay bricks when there isn’t a defender within five feet of them. That shouldn’t happen. JerShon Cobb is another poor shooter who right now is shooting just 30% from three point range, but to be fair that’s in line with his career numbers. I would just have hoped he might have improved with a year off to work on his game.
When NU faces a Wisconsin team that shoots 38% from three point range as a team it’ll be very hard for them to hang with the Badgers unless something remarkable happens. Even NU’s great defense will likely meet its match given NU’s limited depth. That’s what happened against Iowa. For 30 minutes NU at least hung with the Hawkeyes but playing only a seven man rotation the Wildcats couldn’t hang with the Hawkeyes 11 man rotation.
Minnesota is another deep and athletic team that will challenge Northwestern. It’ll be an interesting matchup, though, because Minnesota is not a good defensive team at all. There is a theory that good defense will beat good offense and that’ll be put to the test on Saturday as Northwestern has good defense but doesn’t have good offense. Of course, the issue of NU’s limited depth may play a role as well. I’d like to see NU try to get more minutes from Sobolewksi, Nate Taphorn, and James Montgomery III as they travel to Madison and Minneapolis. Taphorn offers more potential offense from behind the three point line than any other Wildcat and Montgomery would fit well into NU’s blue-collar defensive approach. As for Sobolewski, if he could play like he did as a freshman he’d offer NU another outside shooter and a guy who is by far the team’s best ball handler. Obviously these are tough games and the Big Ten is a tough league and using a little more depth might help NU hang with tough squads as the season continues.