A Line-up Shake-up for Northwestern?

Northwestern’s sky high start to the season has very quickly come back down to Earth as conference play began, dropping five of eight Big Ten games and losing their last three in a row.

507093032After high expectations coming into the year and an outstanding performance in non-conference play, the Wildcats are beginning to fall victim to old habits. Around this very time last season they dropped ten straight games, some of them close, but each more deflating than the last.

Stopping that trend from reoccurring this season is high on their priority list, but it won’t be easy with upcoming games against Michigan State and then on the road against Iowa. But there are still things Northwestern can do to turn the tide before things get out of hand for a second straight year.

This should start with a shake up of the starting lineup. Save for the last few weeks while Alex Olah was injured, the ‘Cats were pretty consistently running out a starting five of Olah, Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Aaron Falzon and Sanjay Lumpkin.

It could seem unfair to judge this lineup to this point, with the Olah injury and Demps struggling more than normal offensively, but that is no reason to not shake things up and attempt to avoid a long losing streak while this team still has a chance to make this a good season.

It begins with changing the way Northwestern approaches these games offensively. Their bread and butter, especially without Olah, has been ball movement and perimeter shooting. With McIntosh, Demps and Flazon Northwestern has three guys who can be dangerous from beyond the arc, but their struggles over long stretches has caused them to fall into deficits too great to recover from despite their best efforts.

Each time they fall into one of these shooting slumps, head coach Chris Collins transitions his team into being more aggressive on offense, playing inside out and getting easy hoops by driving to the basket. So why isn’t this their strategy from the outset?

Because the lineup as is isn’t built for this kind of play…but it can be.

Here is my proposed starting five and how it could improve this team: McIntosh, Demps, Olah, Scottie Lindsey and Dererk Pardon

In the Paint

 When Olah was injured it forced Northwestern to burn Pardon’s red shirt, and he has shown flashes of being a very good low post player for the team’s future (I see a young DeMarcus Cousins minus the drama). But why can’t that future begin now? Olah’s absence placed Joey Van Zegeren into the starting lineup, but he has no offensive game to speak of and should really only be relied on for energy, rebounding and eating up team fouls. Northwestern needs multiple offensive weapons down low. This is where you pair Olah and Pardon.

Olah can create down low as well as hit shots from outside the paint and has the potential to draw multiple defenders to open things up for their shoots. We’ve known this about the senior for a while now. But pair him with Pardon who crashes the offensive boards, scores off missed shots as well as with his back to the basket, and now you have two players who you can feed the ball into down low early in games.

Right now Lumpkin is playing the four out of position. He is a good rebounder, defender and team leader, but defenders don’t really need to respect his game offensively. Moving him to the bench allows them to bring in a defensive stopper with maturity who has the ability to play multiple positions and slow things down. He does the kinds of things that don’t show up on the box score, but when you’re struggling offensively, you need someone who makes a mark there too.

Pardon will benefit from Olah’s tutelage and Olah will benefit from not being the only focus in the paint on offense.

On the Perimeter

 The pre-season loss of Vic Law thrust freshman Falzon into the starting lineup and we were excited to see what he could do – a 6’8” forward who can get hot from beyond the arc. But Falzon has been inconsistent and has not contributed much unless his shots are going down.

This team does well when they turn the focus from shooting threes to driving to the hoop, a part of Falzon’s game he has yet to develop, and they have the slashers to do it with Demps and McIntosh. One player who is not being utilized enough in that way is Scottie Lindsey. Putting Lindsey at the three gives them another player who can get to the hoop and open things up for Demps and McIntosh.

Plus, he has been the team’s most efficient three-point shooter at 39% and still gives them a threat from outside. And if you have Olah and Pardon clogging up the lane it will open things up for Lindsey to get his shots and take some of the pressure off their guards.

There is also a huge benefit to moving Falzon to the bench. Until he is able to further develop his game, he is a three-point specialist. Bringing him off the bench gives you that offensive that they lack now.

If Northwestern waits around for the current starting to group to click while facing their toughest competition, they may fall into the same hole they fell into last year.

This is Collins’ third year as head coach of this team and he should take this opportunity to shake up his strategy as well as his lineup before it is too late.