Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Kramer: Northwestern needs slow pace for success

Kramer%3A+Northwestern+needs+slow+pace+for+success

Northwestern’s victory Sunday against No. 23 Illinois was a momentous one for the Wildcats and coach Chris Collins.

(Tre Demps’ clutch shooting keys Northwestern upset of Illinois)

Collins recorded his first Big Ten win and his first win against a nationally ranked opponent. But Sunday’s success should not be mistaken for a breakthrough. The game will neither jump-start a winning streak nor lead to any postseason berth. It did a better job exposing the Illini’s weaknesses than highlighting the Cats’ potential for the season’s last eight weeks.

NU got a bit lucky against an Illinois team that relies on two shoot-first guards, Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice, an inconsistent outside shooter, Jon Ekey, and a center who lacks a true post presence, Nnanna Egwu.

The Illini gained national attention after taking No. 15 Oregon to the wire and beating No. 23 Missouri. Since then, both of those teams have plummeted out of the top 25.

An NCAA Tournament appearance could be in the Illini’s future, but, after Sunday, it is far from certain.

On Sunday, though, NU gave its best defensive effort in Big Ten play. Abrams and Rice shot 3-of-12 in the first half, including a handful of good looks at the rim.

Ekey finished the game 1-of-6 on three-pointers with a pair of wide-open misses, and Egwu’s only points in the paint came on a second-half dunk.

Once the Illini started converting on some of their open looks, their offensive efficiency climbed from 0.54 points per possession in the first half to 0.92 in the second.

Still, NU will take any win it can get after losing its first three Big Ten games by more than 20 points each.

And in the process, the Cats may have found a method that could lead to a couple more upsets down the road — or at least keep them competitive more often.

Though far from a replica, Collins’ game plan Sunday had the same goal as former coach Bill Carmody’s: Slow down the pace and find good looks offensively.

The Cats succeeded in both regards, limiting the contest to 58 possessions and scoring 0.84 points per trip against the Big Ten’s fifth-most efficient defense, according to kenpom.com ratings. The pace was the slowest Illinois has played in conference play by 10 possessions and tied the slowest game NU has played this season. 

“I just didn’t feel like we were going to win a track meet,” Collins said after the game. “My feeling with the guys was, we should never rest on defense. If we have to take a break or breathe, let’s do it on the offensive end.”

Collins should return to this formula Wednesday against No. 4 Michigan State and throughout conference play.

The Cats are not ready to be a Big Ten version of Duke, Collins’ alma mater, where he also served as an assistant coach for 13 seasons. NU lacks the athletes and firepower to dominate on the offensive end.

Built by Carmody, this group was made to work at a slower pace, limiting opponents’ offensive opportunities instead of trying to outscore them. That game plan gives NU its best shot at being competitive in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Jesse_Kramer

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Kramer: Northwestern needs slow pace for success