Rollins: With Alex Olah injured, Tre Demps needs to shoot less

Rollins: With Alex Olah injured, Tre Demps needs to shoot less

Khadrice Rollins, Managing Editor

Men’s Basketball

Northwestern is off to its best start since the 1930-1931 season and at 12-1, the team has one of the best records in the Big Ten going into conference play.

With starting center senior Alex Olah now sidelined for the foreseeable future, it is easy to think the Wildcats should rely more heavily on senior guard Tre Demps to pick up the scoring burden as they start conference play. But despite being second on the team with a career-best 15.2 points per game this season, Demps would be best served shooting less if NU wants to continue its winning ways.

Demps currently has the second-lowest shooting percentage on the team. Although his 40.8 percent field goal percentage is the second-best of his career, he has easily been the least reliable shooter for NU.

The only player with a lower shooting percentage than Demps right now is freshman forward Aaron Falzon, who has connected on 40.7 percent of his shots. But there is a huge difference in the shots Falzon is taking. Falzon has taken 91 shots this season with 76 being 3-pointers, and he is shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc. Demps has 184 shot attempts on the year, with a team-high 77 coming from deep. However, Demps is only shooting 32.5 percent from 3, the lowest of any Wildcat with more than 10 attempts.

As Demps continues to settle for long-range shots even though he is not shooting them efficiently, he is not putting as much pressure on defenses as he could. Despite shooting 38 more shots than sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh, who is second on the team in shot attempts, Demps has not gotten to the foul line as often as McIntosh. Demps is only third on the roster in free throw attempts, behind McIntosh and Olah, which is interesting because Demps is shooting 69.7 percent from the line, his best percentage since his redshirt freshman year.

So far this year, Demps has not shown he has taken the steps to become as efficient a scorer as he needs to be to warrant his shot selection and shot attempts.

Last season, Demps led NU with 12.5 points per gamewhile shooting a career-high 42.1 percent from the field. In a year in which the Cats had inconsistent play from then-freshman forward Vic Law and senior guard JerShon Cobb spent much of the season out with injuries, Demps took on the role of being the primary scorer and the team’s top contributor from the wing.

With McIntosh as his running mate in the backcourt and Olah providing a reliable presence in the post, Demps was able to elevate his play throughout the year. Demps shot 46.5 percent from the field in conference play and averaged just over 13 points in those games. And because of the jump in production during Big Ten play, members of the conference have made it clear they will key in on Demps along with Olah when taking on the Cats. So with the extra attention, and Olah on the shelf, one cannot expect him to match that increase in efficiency when Big Ten play starts.

But Demps can continue to dominate the ball and lead NU in a different way. Although he has not improved as a shooter this season, Demps has taken great strides as a distributer. Demps’ 4.2 assists per game is second on the team and is 11th in the conference. He also has the fifth best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten at 3.9, even better than McIntosh’s 2.7.

McIntosh currently leads the team in assists, posting 6.8 per game, but he has also emerged as the team’s best scoring option. He leads NU with 16.2 points per gameand he is shooting 50.7 percent from the field, 47.2 percent from 3 and 86.4 percent from the foul line.

Sophomore guard Scottie Lindsey and junior forward Nathan Taphorn have also proven to be consistent deep threats so far this season as both are shooting above 40 percent from downtown. Falzon, Lindsey, McIntosh and Taphorn have combined to make 90 3-pointers already while shooting at a 41.3 percent clip.

If Demps looks to feed these shooters more often, it will help keep the paint clear for the depleted big man corps as well as for Demps if he looks to attack the rim more. Freshman Dererk Pardon, sophomore Gavin Skelly and graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren have the highest field goal percentages on the team, although that is mostly because of their limited shot opportunities. If they can keep up their production on the inside as they take on a bigger role and Demps takes more 2-pointers — he is connecting on 46.7 percent of them — the Cats can potentially negate the loss of Olah on the offensive end.

NU is currently fifth in the Big Ten averaging 79.9 points per game, and that is with Demps struggling from the field. If Demps looks to feed the shooters and big men and take on a bigger role as a distributor, NU might save face while waiting on Olah to return. And if Demps can look to be more passive when Olah returns and his 12.8 points per game and 59.8 percent field goal percentage are inserted back into the lineup, the Cats may be in for the best season in program history.

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Twitter: @KhadriceRollins