Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Exhibitionism Is Fun, But You Can't Do It Every Day

Norhtwestern blitzed Division II McKendree last Friday night in a preseason exhibition game at the Welsh. The ‘Cats won 102-52 in a 70-possession game. Looking at the tempo-free stats, confirms the obvious: NU played a much better game than the Bearcats.

NU scored at will, and McKendree, well, didn’t. The 'Cats shot lights out from the field, shared the ball, and also dominated the glass on both ends. They did almost everything well. Fans and commentators have been understandably impressed by the performance.

Unfortunately, that exuberance is perpetuating some flimsy narratives. Among them:

  • “Wow, NU scored 100 points! I can’t remember the last time that happened.”
  • “This is the most exciting team in a loooooong time!”
  • “NU hasn’t had this much firepower in years.”

Settle down, folks. Let’s start by remembering that the ‘Cats did this against a very bad D2 team. We can revisit this enthusiasm should they demolish a team with a pulse, say Butler or Northern Iowa or Michigan.

Yes, it has been a long time since an NU team scored triple digits. Over a decade, in fact. The last 100+ point game for the ‘Cats was on December 1, 1992, against University of Chicago (101-50). However, NU has scored in the 90s multiple times in recent years, most recently against UIC last year (93-58). In at least two games, Bill Carmody took shot clock violations rather than embarrass an opponent by posting 100+ points.

If you think this will be the most exciting NU team in a long time after one exhibition game, you’re vastly overrating the value of an exhibition game, AND you’ve likely seen about 2-3 seasons of NU hoops. In the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons, the ‘Cats posted top-25 offenses in AdjORtg. There are still guys on the roster from the 2011 and 2012 seasons, that's how loooooong ago it was.

Assuming NU has some real firepower this year, which is a bit of stretch based on an exhibition, you do have to go back years to find another NU team with significant firepower. Three whole years.

Think I’m being unfair? Check the stats from UIC last year (93-58, 69 possessions), as well as the 2011 and 2012 exhibitions against NAIA Robert Morris (91-71, 70 possessions, and 99-48, 69 possessions, respectively).

There are ample similarities amongst all these games. I think we can all agree that last year’s UIC game was an anomaly for a team that overall was great on defense and awful on offense. Those RMU exhibitions came against very good NAIA teams, and the NU teams those years happened to be offensive juggernauts and average to below-average defensive squads. My point is that we’ve seen NU games like the McKendree game recently, and some of those NU teams were good, but not all of them were. Don’t assume that this year's offense is set to be top-50 because it destroyed a bad team in an exhibition.

Back to the McKendree stats, there actually are a some concerns. The team’s TORate (21.43%) was much too high given the level of opponent. The team FT% (47.6%) was awful. Finally, McKendree hit threes at a very high percentage 40.9%). When I previewed the defense, I noted that NU’s phenomenal 3P% defense last season was lucky and that we should expect that number to increase this year. It’s just an exhibition, but McKendree demonstrated very well how that happens.

What about the players? Nobody had a bad game, but four guys in particular were extremely impressive: Bryant McIntosh, Alex Olah, Dave Sobolewski, and Tre Demps. Neither McIntosh nor Sobolewski missed a shot, and they were highly effective creating for their teammates. Mac had an AstRate of 56.05 and Sobo had 48.48! If you want to get excited about that, well I can’t argue. Olah was as dominant as you’d expect against a team with no one over 6-8 on the roster. Demps seems determined to shut my skepticism up. He was remarkably efficient.

Now the negatives. Vic Law, JerShon Cobb, Sanjay Lumpkin, Johnnie Vassar, and Jeremiah Kreisberg all turned the ball over at a TORate higher than 23% with A:TO below 1. Each of those guys, however, compensated with at least some of the following: good rebounding on at least one end of the court, decent shooting, steals, and blocks. Additionally, Law, Olah, Cobb, Kreisberg, Gavin Skelly, and Scottie Lindsey were bad from the line, all shooting 50% or less.

Here are the individual numbers.

Standard Box

Advanced Box – Offense

Advanced Box – Defense

Northwestern hosts Houston Baptist on Friday in its regular season opener. KenPom predicts a 78-57 NU win in a 68-possession game. I don’t expect it to be that close.

Obligatory Music Video

The Kinks - "Some Mother's Son"


  1. Great stuff, as usual. Look forward to your coverage this season!

    1. Thanks. That means a lot coming from you.

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