Northwestern’s win over Illinois gives them bragging rights which is nice, but perhaps more important it gives the team and its fans so hope for the future. I’ve got confidence in what Chris Collins is trying to do, but as I wrote about last weekend it seemed NU just couldn’t catch a break. NU still hasn’t had multiple players really shoot well at one time, but they did catch a break in terms of Illinois having a very off day shooting the ball. As a result the ‘Cats pulled out a hard fought 49-43 victory over the #23 team in the nation.
While Illinois did have an off day shooting you have to give some credit to Northwestern for that result. I honestly felt this was one of the most hard-working defensive efforts I’d seen from NU in a long time. I was particularly impressed with how NU’s perimeter players fought over the top of screens (something they struggled with earlier in the year) and how Alex Olah helped when needed. If NU gets similar efforts in the future they’ll continue to compete. They might need more offensive production than they got last night, though, Tre Demps run of three straight threes was about as clutch as you can get, it’ll take more than 49 points to win most Big Ten games. At least I think it will, but I’d fine if NU could hold down opponents and win 39-33. The end result is the team wants to get W’s and it doesn’t matter how those occur.
Aside from Demps and his clutch play, you have to respect the efforts of JerShon Cobb who stepped into the role of starting point guard and really seemed to ignite the NU offense from that spot. I like Cobb’s ability to score off the dribble and as he plays more and more I expect to see him generate even more offense. I’m still waiting for a huge game from Drew Crawford, but his 13 points did lead the team and he also tied for the team lead with eight rebounds. Crawford needs to make sure his feet are set when he shoots threes and not fade-away on some many shots, but at least he showed some signs of his old shooting touch on Sunday night. Hopefully he’ll completely regain that touch as NU takes on tough matchups with Michigan State and Indiana this week.
The other area NU needs to improve in before this week's games is free throw shooting. At least Crawford made the clutch free throws at the end of the game, but overall the team did not shoot free throws well. Making free throws seems at times to be a skill which isn't nearly as common as it was in years past, but if you're a team that is an underdog in nearly every game you need to get any points you can free throws are by their name "free" points. I'll be looking and hoping the 'Cats are cashing in from the line in other close games this season.