The Northwestern basketball team relied heavily on the team’s guards this past season. And after signing its 2014 class, it is clear that the burden of the load will once again fall on their shoulders. Three of the team’s six incoming freshmen — Bryant McIntosh, Johnnie Vassar and Scott Lindsey — are guards.
McIntosh will receive a serious look at the starting point guard position, while the other two will compete for what little playing time is left over after coach Chris Collins’ rotation is set.
But opponents’ main focus will be on redshirt senior JerShon Cobb and redshirt junior Tre Demps. The two guards accounted for about 39% of the team’s offensive scoring last season.
However, as anyone who watched the Wildcats play knows, offensive struggles run deep through the team’s guards. Northwestern’s second-leading scorer this past year, Cobb shot only 41.1% from the floor, which, interestingly enough, was the team’s highest shooting percentage (not including the centers). Demps showed flashes of clutch shot-making during the month of January, but showed even greater signs of inconsistency throughout the season in general.
Co-captain Dave Sobolewski, who dealt with a couple injuries in mid-January, struggled all season to find his rhythm on either side of the ball and was relegated to the bench.
Of course, a year of equal parts triumph and disappoint can only make the returning guards better. Or, at the very least, better equipped to help the freshmen adjust to the college game.
There is no question that, on the basketball court, Cobb is going to be the flag-bearer. He is the team’s most reliable scorer and has also been with the program for five years. Though he previously sat out a year due to academic ineligibility, his ability to overcome that adversity shows the perseverance he possesses. Above all, his 12.2 points per game show he is a competent guard in the Big Ten.
Demps remains the team’s biggest wildcard due to his ability to either completely break open a game or go on a long-lasting cold streak. But whether he is starting or is once again the team’s sixth man, Demps role will be expanded to compensate for the inexperience of the guards behind him.
The freshmen guards should also benefit from the presence of Sobolewski, a player who has seen some of the program’s highest and lowest moments. The senior seems to have fallen out of favor with Collins and is likely going to see little minutes in his final season. While no one should expect him to accept the role of mentor, the greatest impacts he can have on the younger guards is through his experience and competitiveness in practice.
With a new look at the guard position, it would be unreasonable to expect too much from any of them this upcoming season. The freshmen will go through their growing pains but hopefully the veteran guards will guide them throughout the season similar to how Drew Crawford did last year. If Crawford helped build the bridge between Northwestern basketball’s old era and its new, the current upperclassmen are tasked with being the bridge’s steps.