Northwestern Vs. NC State Preview: Chris Collins Returns To Tobacco Road

Ethan Miller

Northwestern @ StatSheet
2013 Stats
2014 Roster
2014 Schedule

Northwestern Offense 12-13
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 47.4 229
Turnover Rate 17.3 37
Off Reb Rate 25.9 329
FTA/FGA 33.8 233

Bill Carmody had himself a pretty solid program in Evanston for a few years, and at times it looked like the Wildcats might finally be good enough to earn an NCAA tournament bid for the first time ever. The Wildcats were competitive in the Big Ten from 2009-20012, but that period led only to some trips to the NIT. Last year, the bottom fell out, and that was it for Carmody, who'd been on the job for 13 years.

Enter Chris Collins, the latest Coach K protege to get a shot at a head coaching gig. Collins wants to get away from the Princeton offense eventually and run something a little more up-tempo, but making wholesale changes with the roster he inherited in year one wasn't practical.

"When you run a system like [the Princeton], it's so intricate, and it's something you have to do every day," Collins said. "And it's pretty regimented in how you cut, how you move. So we're implementing some new things but also staying true to some of the things that have been good for these players. It will be a mixture in the first year."

It may not be the formula he prefers, but it's one he's going to have to live with for at least this season. On paper, this Wildcats team doesn't look much different that Carmody's clubs, not surprisingly. The Wildcats are still playing at a glacial pace, and they're still relying heavily on the three-point shot. They're still taking care of the ball while grabbing only the occasional offensive board.

Starters

Dave Sobolewski (6-1, 180) -- His free throw and assist rates are pretty good, but there isn't a lot that stands out here. The dude has been a competent three point shooter in the past, though he is just 9-of-36 from deep this year. I'm thinking we have a pretty significant advantage in the point guard matchup; we'll see.

JerShon Cobb (6-5, 205) -- After sitting out a year because of academics, Cobb is back and playing efficiently despite a high workload. His track record suggests that this most likely cannot be sustained. For now, though, he's leading the team in scoring. How he holds up once conference play starts will be a crucial factor in Northwestern's fate this year, it appears.

Sanjay Lumpkin (6-6, 210) -- Lumpkin is giving the Wildcats the rebounding help at both ends that it needs, but it's also clear that the freshman is still easing into his role at the offensive end. He's taking a mere 10% of the shots while on the floor, and although that selectivity has allowed him to score efficiently, it's hard to say how much of an impact he's capable of having in that department.

Drew Crawford (6-5, 215) -- Crawford's 2013 season got derailed by injury, and he had to miss Northwestern's last game this year because of back spasms. He says he'll play Wednesday, but if he's limited at all, it's bad news for the Wildcats, who can't replace his playmaking ability. Crawford has been a good three-point shooter for the majority of his career; he's also been effective at getting points inside the arc, though he's never been particularly good at getting to the free throw line.

Alex Olah (7-0, 265) -- The duel of the century, a battle of foreign seven-footers, is upon us. After a rough freshman campaign in which he hit just 43.2% of his twos, Olah is looking more like an effective option this year, and he's definitely shown a knack for tampering with the opposition's shots. His problem is one that plagues a lot of big guys everywhere these days: fouls. Olah is committing more than five fouls per 40 minutes. Northwestern needs to keep him on the floor, because there ain't much in the way of true forwards behind him.

Bench

Tre Demps (6-2, 193), Kale Abrahamson (6-7, 210), Nathan Taphorn (6-7, 190), Nikola Cerina (6-9, 235). Demps is trying to be The Guy even though he's been the team's sixth man all year--nobody else has a higher workload. That's a mixed bag--he's been a competent outside shooter, it's just that he should be taking a back seat to Crawford. Instead, he's bombs away out there. It's a good idea to funnel him into the paint if possible; he's a career 41.5% shooter inside the arc.

Twenty-six of Taphorn's 30 field goal attempts have come from three. So far they aren't falling. Abrahamson is shooting well from outside but appears to be pretty limited otherwise. Cerina spent two years at TCU, where he didn't do much other than grab defensive boards and foul people. He appeared in just 14 games for Northwestern last year, taking a grand total of 15 shots.

Northwestern Defense 12-13
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 48.2 152
Turnover Rate 19.0 225
Off Reb Rate 36.0 322
FTA/FGA 37.8 223

When Carmody had Northwestern making NIT trips, he had some fantastic offenses. For three years in a row, the Wildcats finished among the top 25 in offensive efficiency. If he ever managed to put together a defense that could stop anybody, the program would have had its NCAA breakthrough.

But that's the Princeton predicament at a place like Northwestern. You can find enough kids with the proper--albeit limited--skillsets who will fit your offensive system and make it work, but attracting great athletes is tough. That's been a glaring issue for the Wildcats, and it shows at this end. It hasn't even necessarily been for a lack of size--in 2010, for example, they were 23rd in effective height and ranked 214th in defensive efficiency.

A big early task for Collins and his staff will be making inroads in Chicago and upgrading the team's athleticism. There are already some early signs of progress in that area, but that obviously doesn't do anything for this edition of the Wildcats.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes State by six.

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