With an 78-48 win over Mississippi Valley State last night, the Northwestern Wildcats improved to 9-1, marking their best ten-game start since the 2011-2012 season. With a low RPI the rest of their non-conference schedule, there's a solid chance that NU enters the Big Ten slate 12-1, setting them up nicely for a run in conference play. While premature, it appears that the Wildcats have put together their best team in years.
While much of this early success can be accredited to overall great team performance, senior guard Tre Demps has been able to step up big for the Cats thus far. In 2015-2016, Demps is averaging 15.6 PPG, a new career high by over three points, and is also playing a team high 36.4 minutes per game. Essentially, Demps has become the offensive glue that holds together this Northwestern team.
This is both good and bad for the Wildcats. Sure, it's important to have a go-to guy on the court. Let's not forget Demps' multiple buzzer-beaters last season against Michigan to send the game to overtime, then double-overtime in an eventual 82-78 victory over the Wolverines. However despite all these successes, it's important that Demps does not get worn out too early in the season. Coach Chris Collins recognizes this, and has been working to ensure his star remains fresh.
In Northwestern's game against SIU Edwardsville last week, Demps was able to sit for a good portion of the second half, logging a 'minimal' 29 minutes. Believe it or not, that's the second least amount of time he's played in a game this entire season (28 minutes vs. New Orleans). The senior's playing time will definitely be something to watch, especially as we near towards Big Ten play.
But the impact of Demps goes far beyond his abilities on the court. A captain, it has become Demps' job to mentor and lead this younger Wildcat squad in a season which some believe may hold Northwestern's first ever NCAA tournament appearance. Seemingly enough, he has been able to build a strong rapport with fellow guard, and sophomore, Bryant McIntosh. Both are averaging the same number of points, and both are playing big minutes, but Demps remains the undisputed leader of this team. Both he and Alex Olah have stuck around long enough to have played under Bill Carmody and Collins in the same career. In their final seasons in college, it seems only fitting that they would make a run at March.
That being said, Demps and the Wildcats still have a ways to go before they start dreaming up their seed. Northwestern will have to endure a tough conference schedule with game against top 10 opponents Maryland, Michigan State and Purdue. While by no means easy, a win against one of the three would be a huge resume booster for this team. Currently, the Cats are receiving votes in both the AP and Coaches Polls. While not listed in ESPN.com's bracketology as of December 8th, NU will likely be sneaking in by conference play. Regardless, this team is going to need to continue their fight through the rest of 2015 and into the new year.