Pillote: De-emphasize the offseason


Bobby Pillote, Sports Editor

This is a very important offseason for Northwestern men’s basketball.

At least, that’s what the stereotypical narrative suggests. The Wildcats’ bumper crop of freshman talent will develop heading into its sophomore season, seniors Tre Demps and Alex Olah will prepare to have First Team All-Big Ten campaigns and coach Chris Collins will get everything figured out going into his third year at the helm. Then NU will vault up the conference standings and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

It’s an awfully rosy view of reality, one sprung from the eternal well of hope that satiates sports fans when their teams aren’t seeing live action.

Quantum leaps in sports are the exception, not the norm, and a regular-sized step forward is exactly what should be expected from the Cats next season.

Demps averaged 11 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 2013-14. Those numbers steadily rose to 12.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game this season. Following that trend, Demps will score about 14 points per game in 2015-16, which would have ranked him just 15th among Big Ten players this year.

Olah is in a similar boat. The center improved from 9.1 points and 5.2 boards per game his sophomore season to 11.7 points and 6.9 boards his junior campaign. Linear improvement, which is far from an accurate model, pegs him for 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game next year.

That kind of performance on the glass would have ranked an impressive second in the conference this season, but that isn’t a huge improvement on his actual fifth-place finish.

NU’s roster will get a little bit better, and the team will finish a little bit higher next season, probably by just a spot or two in the standings. That’s simply how sports work most of the time.

A great model of what we can expect for men’s basketball comes from the women’s basketball team. That squad flirted with .500 for the past three seasons before finally breaking through this year, posting a 23-9 record and making the field of the NCAA Tournament.

There was no secret or magic to the Cats making that jump. It was incremental improvement.

NU’s top three scorers, sophomore forward Nia Coffey, junior guard Maggie Lyon and junior forward Lauren Douglas, didn’t change from last year to this year. Each player had almost identical points per minute totals across the two seasons.

The Cats made it to the postseason by getting just a little bit more out of players like sophomore guard Christen Inman, senior center Alex Cohen and senior guard Karly Roser.

Inman saw less playing time but became a more efficient scorer, improving her shooting percentage by 3 percent. Cohen made the most of her extra five minutes per game, posting an additional 2 points and half a rebound per contest. And Roser came back from an injury-abbreviated junior season to play 22 minutes per appearance as a key role player.

It took time — and a bit of luck, as it does with every team — for women’s basketball to reach the promised land for the first time since 1997. The men’s team will make progress, but don’t expect it all to happen in one offseason.

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote