It’s Time to Give Northwestern Some Love

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2014

After the non-conference season is over, most power conference teams usually come away with a record significantly over .500. So when you start off 7-6 before you even get into your conference, you’re usually going to be doomed to a season where you might win 11-12 games overall. This still might be the case for the 2013-14 Northwestern squad, but the Wildcats have turned things around quite significantly in their last three games. The team has become elite defensively, allowing opponents to score an average only 48 points in their last three games. So what are the catalysts for this impressive turn around where they’ve gone from the team that struggled to beat Brown at home, to beating Illinois and Indiana in consecutive weeks?

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats( Nam Y. Huh, AP).

Alex Olah has turned into a defensive force for the improving Wildcats. (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

  • Alex Olah: At the beginning of the season, Olah looked like an abnormally tall human being who was told to play basketball simply because of his size. There was no energy, no passion, and no coordination. If you fast forward and take a look at how he’s played from November 9 to the present, you can see a tremendous difference. This can seen without even using one statistic. He aggressively posts now and tries to seal his man, almost like he just woke up one day and realized that he’s 7-feet tall and weighs 265 pounds. He’ll occasionally take a three here and there that the team could do without, but he’s done a much better job being active both offensively and defensively. Part of the reason teams don’t get many points in the paint against Northwestern is because of the presence of Olah in the middle. He’s pushed his averages up to 10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in conference games, compared to 8.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in non-conference games. More importantly, he’s gone up from 25.1 MPG to 32.0 in league play. His ability to stay on the floor and not pick up cheap fouls that seemingly plague almost every big man in college basketball has lead to the team defense staying strong throughout the game.
  • Perimeter Size: The head injury to Dave Sobolewski has lead to a lineup change that has done wonders defensively. Northwestern struggles to make shots with or without their point guard on the floor. Now however, they’ve gone to a lineup that does not have anyone under 6’5″ in it. Much like Wisconsin, the guards do a great job crashing the boards. Drew Crawford has especially been really good here, as he has led the team in this category 10 times. With this length, they are able to bother point guards like Yogi Ferrell and Tracy Abrams. In their last three games, they’ve held opponents to only 0.86 points per 100 possessions. Teams have shot a woeful 34.1% from the field, and 21.6% from three. With their pack-line principles and their size on the perimeter, Northwestern has done a good jobs making teams without great shooters beat them from the outside.
  • Tre Demps: Demps has been compared to former Detroit Pistons bench player Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson on multiple occasions by broadcasters. For those of you born after 1984, Johnson was given that moniker because he was known for providing instant offense off the bench. Demps has followed suit in their two wins, as he was able to take over the second half both times. He doesn’t have great percentages on the year, but he’s come in and nailed some huge shots that have led to the Wildcats sealing victories late in games. When he’s on, he’s the best shooter on the team, giving them someone who’s not afraid of the pressure-packed situations late in the game.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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