Both Northwestern’s Men’s and Women’s basketball were riding high coming out of non-conference play, with each sitting at 12-1. But now, two weeks into conference play, both teams have fallen back to earth. Northwestern’s Men’s team fell to Ohio State before topping Minnesota at The Barn to move to 2-2 in conference play, while the Northwestern Women lost to Purdue and Michigan State to fall to 1-3 in conference. So let’s take a look at the numbers behind the ‘Cats’ poor non-conference starts.
After shooting just 24 percent, 6 of 25, from beyond the arc against Ohio State and just 10 percent, 2 of 20, from three against Maryland – a combined 8 of 45 (17.8%) – the ‘Cats finally found their range from deep against Minnesota, and shot 44 percent from beyond the arc. Yes, Minnesota isn’t great, ranked No. 185 overall according to Kempom, but after two really poor shooting nights, Northwestern really needed to find their range and did so against the Gophers zone. But moving forward, if the ‘Cats are without Alex Olah for a significant period of time, they’ll live and die by the three – 3 point shots comprise 32 percent of their points – and finding open treys for Aaron Falzon, Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh will be huge for the ‘Cats.
One thing the ‘Cats have excelled so far in Big Ten conference play, even without Alex Olah, is crashing the offensive glass. The ‘Cats rank second in the Big Ten with a 34.9 offensive rebound percentage (the percentage of Northwestern’s total rebounds that are offensive rebounds) and posted 16 offensive rebounds against Ohio State and 8 against Minnesota. Joey Van Zegren and Dererk Pardon have done a pretty good job on the glass both offensively and defensively, preventing opponents from gaining too many extra possessions while giving Northwestern a few of their own.
Tre Demps, usually known for his #TreDempsClutchGene, has been in a bit of a slump lately, shooting just 28 percent from the floor against Ohio State and Minnesota. Demps was just 4 of 16 against Maryland on Saturday, before going 3 of 17 against Ohio State and 5 of 11 against Minnesota. As Northwestern’s second leading scorer, the ‘Cats really need Demps to pick it up, especially without Olah. Demps may be an inefficient scorer, but he’s shown he can knock it down from anywhere when the ‘Cats need it, yet we haven’t seen that from him much this year.
Trying to find a replacement for the departed Alex Cohen is now beginning to become an issue for the ‘Cats. Senior Christen Johnson went scoreless in both of the women’s games this week, accumulating only 13 minutes on the court and grabbing only four rebounds. Obviously, Johnson didn’t have a ton of playing time to prove herself and even came off the bench Sunday in East Lansing in a lineup switch, but her lack of production has forced the ‘Cats to play small (with Nia Coffey at the 5) more often, where they have struggled defensively. The 6-2 Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah has provided a nice lift off the bench at times this season, but the bigger lineups left a lot to be desired over the past week.
Speaking of bench players and Northwestern’s depth, the ‘Cats’ four core players (Ashley Deary, Christen Inman, Maggie Lyon and Coffey) are by far Northwestern’s best four offensive options, but almost to a fault. It took until nearly the final three minutes of action against Michigan State for any player outside of those four to score a point for the ‘Cats. The bench is obviously less talented and doesn’t need to light the world on fire offensively, but Northwestern’s lack of depth has forced the starters to play extended minutes and has contributed to the team’s offensive struggles over the past week.
Northwestern relies heavily on the three-point shot, especially with reliable shooters in Lyon, Deary and Inman and inconsistent play inside other than Coffey. The ‘Cats struggled immensely in that area this week, however, as they shot 6-of-43 (13.9 percent) from deep and only 33.5 percent overall. Joe McKeown’s squad is naturally a more talented shooting team than that and should improve at some point, but the ‘Cats’ struggles from shooting beyond the arc cannot continue against strong B1G opponents (Ohio State, Maryland) this week if the team wants to turn things around.