Men’s Basketball: Inside Vic Law’s struggles heading into Michigan State

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Men’s Basketball: Inside Vic Law’s struggles heading into Michigan State

Vic Law attempts a shot against Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. The freshman has struggled to adjust offensively to the college game, but his athletic ability is still shining through for the Cats.

Vic Law attempts a shot against Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. The freshman has struggled to adjust offensively to the college game, but his athletic ability is still shining through for the Cats.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Vic Law attempts a shot against Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. The freshman has struggled to adjust offensively to the college game, but his athletic ability is still shining through for the Cats.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Vic Law attempts a shot against Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. The freshman has struggled to adjust offensively to the college game, but his athletic ability is still shining through for the Cats.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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For Northwestern, it couldn’t be a worse time to be in an offensive malaise.

Averaging just 54.5 points per game in their first two conference contests, the Wildcats (10-5, 1-1 Big Ten) must now head to East Lansing, Michigan, on Sunday and face down one of the country’s elite defenses in Michigan State (11-5, 2-1).

NU has relied too much on junior guard Tre Demps and freshman guard Bryant McIntosh for scoring of late, and will likely need a variety of offensive weapons to beat a much better Michigan State squad.

The Cats will be looking for contributions from sophomore forward Sanjay Lumpkin and junior center Alex Olah, but what one player can do against Michigan State and beyond will be of special importance. That player is Vic Law.

Law is the standard-bearer of the Chris Collins era at NU. The freshman forward was the shining star of Collins’ highly-regarded inaugural recruiting class, but for much of this season he has struggled.

Even early on, it is fair to wonder what’s holding back a 6-foot-7 wing player who was expected to rely on his athleticism and long frame more than any specific skill.

Law’s stat sheet through 15 games isn’t stellar. He’s averaging only 6.9 points in 25 minutes per game.

The lack of scoring is directly attributable to poor shooting, with Law making just 37 percent of his shots from the floor and only 20 percent of his threes. But despite the shooting struggles, he is still leveraging his quickness and frame to generate offense from the free throw line.

Law has shot from the charity stripe 34 times this season, almost identical to the totals of Demps (33) and McIntosh (36), despite fewer minutes played. He has made 79 percent of those attempts.

As expected, Law is doing better on the defensive end of the court where his size and athleticism are bigger factors, and he’s the second-leading rebounder on the team.

There’s no convenient stat to assess Law’s on-ball defense, but we can use his play against Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker, one of the top wing players in the country, as a benchmark for his defensive ability.

Dekker had 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, indicating a poor performance by Law, but stats rarely tell the whole story. Zooming in on Dekker’s first basket of the night reveals why.

The play starts with Dekker (top, in red) running from the corner around a screen by forward Nigel Hayes (#10) toward ball-handler Frank Kaminsky (#44) at the top of the key:

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Lumpkin (#34) doesn’t recognize the developing play and Law (#4) runs under the screen instead of over it:

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This gives Dekker (#15) an uncontested shot, which he knocks down:

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At first glance, Law running under the screen seems like bad defense, but that’s probably exactly what he was coached to do on such a play. Collins would rather give up an open three than an open lane to the basket.

Lumpkin also misses an opportunity to switch off of Hayes and onto Dekker, which would have blown up the play and forced Wisconsin to start over.

This play is indicative of how the rest of the game went. Law wasn’t beat in one-on-one isolations with Dekker; the entire Cats defense was beat by a team that utilizes clever play design and has talent across the board.

NU’s hope that Law’s offensive struggles dissipate against Michigan State is not exceedingly likely, but it’s important to remember Law is a still-developing player on a still-developing team.

For those hitting the panic button on Law, it would be best to hold off.

Email: bpillote@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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