I had the Northwestern Wildcats pegged for NCAA Tournament consideration heading into this 2014 season, but before the calendar even turns to the new year, it appears that the team is going to struggle to even qualify for the NIT. Surprisingly, defense isn't a part of the team's problems, at least so far. New coach Chris Collins has Northwestern holding opponents to a 47-percent effective field goal percentage and just 99 points per 100 possessions.
Those figures aren't terrible considering that the Wildcats have faced a difficult non-conference schedule that features heavyweights such as UCLA, Missouri, and NC State. However, the offense has failed to find improvement even with the addition of Drew Crawford (missed most of last season with a torn labrum) and JerShon Cobb (missed all of last season because of academic issues).
It's true that Northwestern's two leading scorers could be more efficient with their shot selection, as the pair has combined to shoot 42 percent from the field so far, but a lot of the offense's woes are due to the lack of development showed by point guard Dave Sobolewski.
I remember when he was a freshman, Sobolewski looked like he was on his way to becoming one of the conference's top point guards. The baby-faced youngster averaged 3.7 assists per game and could put the ball in the basket as well. He shot 36 percent from beyond the arc and scored 20 or more points in three Big Ten games.
In 2013, Sobolewski saw his scoring and assist average go up slightly, but he shot worse from the field. It wasn't quite the jump in production I expected to see from him, especially if you compare his performance to the one put on by fellow sophomore guard Trey Burke. Instead of a game-changing playmaker, Sobolewski was like Aaron Craft minus the intimidating defense. Still, maybe there was hope with the Wildcats having players around him who could take some of the scoring pressure off.
This season, Crawford and Cobb haven't been able to help Sobolewski break out. Instead, the point guard is having his worst season since he enrolled at Northwestern. Just 21 percent of his three-pointers have gone in, and he's averaging just 3.1 assists per game. The drop in assists can be partially explained by Collins asking Cobb to handle the ball so much, and at least Sobolewski is on pace for a career high in free throw attempts, but something just isn't clicking for the junior's jump shot right now.
To get the Wildcats on track in time for Big Ten play to begin, Collins would do well to figure out how to get his point guard's performance pointed in the right direction. Four points on 0-for-4 shooting versus Mississippi Valley State just isn't going to cut it.