Northwestern Men’s Basketball Season Preview

WNUR’s Jason Dorow (@JasonDorow) examines the 2013-2014 Northwestern Wildcats men’s basketball roster, coaching change and season outlook.

The Northwestern football hype may be disappearing from Evanston, but the boys on the hardwood are set to kick off the year. Get ready ‘Cats fans! Basketball season is upon us!

Northwestern men’s basketball team is coming off a bit of down year. After three seasons with at least 19 wins, the ‘Cats finished 13-19 overall and 4-14 in conference in 2012-2013. But this year marks a new era for Northwestern. Bill Carmody is out as head coach, and in is Chris Collins.

The Northwestern job is Collins’ first try at head coach in college basketball. Collins, a Northbrook, Illinois native, was Illinois Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American while playing in high school. He went on to play four years at Duke before playing two years in Finland. Collins then assistant coached for 15 years, including 12 seasons under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

Chris Collins is expected to really shake up the Wildcats’ style of play. The Princeton offense will exit along with Carmody, and Collins will usher in a motion-based system. It will utilize more on-ball screens and space the floor to allow for isolation and one-on-one scoring opportunities. Northwestern games should be more fast paced and high scoring this year.

Dave Sobolewski will start at point guard for the third straight year. Photo Credit: David Banks/US Presswire

Dave Sobolewski will start at point guard for the third straight year. Photo Credit: David Banks/US Presswire

The Wildcat backcourt will try to take advantage of the up tempo offense. Senior captain Drew Crawford returns from injury. He received a medical red shirt after tearing a labrum in his right shoulder ten games into last year’s season. Crawford, who averaged over 16 points per game in 2011-2012, and junior guard JerShon Cobb will carry the scoring load for the ‘Cats. Cobb was suspended for the entire 2012-2013 season, but Chris Collins likes the pure scoring talent of the 6’5” guard. Cobb averaged seven points per game in 2011-2012 while only playing 20 minutes per contest. Junior captain Dave Sobolewski will round out the NU backcourt. Sobolewski will distribute the ball from the point and create for the players around him. He averaged four assists and nearly ten points per game last year.

The Northwestern starting frontcourt is still up in the air heading into the season. The loss of Jared Swopshire in the offseason leaves a hole at power forward. Early signs point to redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin starting at the four spot. He also missed the majority of last season, receiving a medical redshirt for a wrist injury. Lumpkin has great athleticism and length, which fit well into Collins’ new offense, but at 6’6”, he will have a tough time facing larger Big Ten forwards. 7 foot sophomore Alex Olah will start at center. Olah spent time playing internationally during the summer, which he says has really improved his game. He averaged six points and four rebounds per game last season. Northwestern will need Olah to improve as a rebounder and low post defender in order to anchor the frontcourt.

The bench will have to contribute significant minutes in the new up tempo system. Incoming freshman Nathan Taphorn should split time with Lumpkin at power forward. Taphorn is somewhat undersized at 6’7” and 190 pounds, but he is a skilled ballhandler and passer with a great outside shot. Sophomore Kale Abrahamson, who has a very similar game to Taphorn, will see solid time as well. Chier Ajou and Nikola Cerina will back up Olah at center. The 6’9” Cerina has more size than Taphorn or Lumpkin, so if he can develop a better inside game, he could move into the starting lineup. Tre Demps and James Montgomery III are NU’s only guards coming off the bench. Demps played nearly 20 minutes per game last season due to the injuries in the backcourt, and he showed he can provide a scoring spark for the ‘Cats. Montgomery won’t see the floor very often, but the video covering his recently received scholarship has generated tons of buzz for the team.

With a first year head coach and a huge transition for the players, it’s hard to expect the ‘Cats to make a big improvement this season. The return of Crawford and Cobb is certainly promising, and Sobolewski is a proven leader. Collins has plenty of talented guards to rotate in. But there are big questions inside. Without a proven power forward, Northwestern will have trouble matching up with bigger Big Ten teams, and the majority of the scoring will have to come from the outside. With that, the ‘Cats should have a very similar season to last year. The Big Ten may be the best conference in college basketball, and Northwestern should finish around tenth in the conference. It will take several years for Chris Collins to build this program into a winner.

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