In their first game of the season, the Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Division III Univeristy of Chicago Maroons 70-46 in an exhbition Wednesday night. While it is hard to learn much about a team when it's matched against a far inferior opponent, the Wildcats gave us enough in their 40 minutes against the Maroons to get a decent first impression. Here are the things we saw, the things we didn't see and the things we wanted to see at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
What we saw
The importance of Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski
Northwestern started off the game with a splash – more specifically, a Drew Crawford dunk right off the opening tip-off. The senior forward's slam combined with the leadership exhibited by him and point guard Dave Sobolewski sent a clear message: Crawford and Sobo are critical to Northwestern's success this season.
"[Crawford and Sobolewski] are going to have to play a huge role," said Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody after the game. "You saw, when they're out there, things happen."
Crawford led the team with 13 points in 20 minutes on the court while Sobo scored six points with two assists and a steal in 23 minutes.
Carmody noted the palplable drop off in the 'Cats level of play when Crawford and Sobolewski were off on the bench. While this was likely caused by the abnormal amount of bench players typically used in exhibition games, Carmody made it clear that Crawford and Sobolewski will be the 'Cats catalysts this season.
A more balanced offensive attack
Last season, Northwestern's offensive success was contingent on John Shurna and Crawford playing up to their potential and at least one other Wildcat coming up big in support. This season, the 'Cats have several scoring threats that can reduce the burdens on Crawford and Sobolewski.
Freshman center Alex Olah scored 12 points in 22 minutes and gives Northwestern a key weapon, which was missing from their arsenal last season, that is critical to the success of their Princeton-style offense: a big man who can contribute offensively.
Tre Demps, a freshman guard who red-shirted last season, scored 11 points in 19 minutes. This will give Bill Carmody the ability to rest Sobolewski, who played the fifth-most minutes per game last season, without seriously detracting from the 'Cats offense.
Jared Swopshire, a graduate student who transfered to Northwestern from Louisville, scored nine points while Nikola Cerina, a redshirt junior who sat out last season due to NCAA rules after transferring from Texas Christian Univeristy, tallied six points. While Swopshire made some questionable shot choices, he displayed the athleticism that will help him create more scoing opportunites later on. Cerina earned his points on three-pointers and went 2-3 from behind the arc.
What we didn't see
Northwestern's offense was on-point against Chicago, but the Wildcat defense was shakier than the score might indicate. The 'Cats gave the Maroons plenty of open looks that they failed to capitalize on, as Chicago shot 29 percent from the floor on 62 shots.
While Northwestern managed to pull down 24 defensive rebounds, those 'Cats stationed under the hoop frequently failed to seal off easy layup routes for the Maroons to exploit.
Northwestern's defensive play was not alarming by any stretch – but against a Division III opponent, it was a bit concerning.
What we wish we saw
Plain and simple, the impact of JerShon Cobb's suspension cannot be overstated.
Cobb was absent from a great deal of last season because of an injured hip. But once he got back, his adept defense and raw athleticism on offense helped Northwestern come within striking distance of its first NCAA Tournament berth in school history.
Northwestern's tournament chances this season are far from squnadered, but the excitement and prowess Cobb would have brought to the team will be missed by the 'Cats and their fans this year.