Maybe you haven’t heard, but the Wildcats have trouble scoring.
Northwestern has had plenty of surprising success this season, but they haven’t made it look pretty. Despite a better-than-expected 5-6 conference record, the Cats are still the Big Ten’s worst offensive team, averaging just 60.8 points per game, nearly seven points fewer per game than the next-worst team.
But this is not news to Chris Collins' group.
When Northwestern has won this season, it’s been thanks to lock-down defense. And when that defense isn’t quite as locked-down, the inability to score makes the chances of victory very slim. Last weekend against Nebraska, the Cats got off to a great defensive start, but as the Huskers started shooting better and doing their own locking down on defense, the game slipped away from the Cats.
"We just have to work on scoring,” Northwestern freshman guard Sanjay Lumpkin said Tuesday at practice. “That's been tough for us at times this year. We just have to continue working and preparing in practice. Give (Nebraska) credit, they did a good job against us in the second half, but we just have to prepare for Michigan State now."
That’s right, the offensively challenged Wildcats have one of the conference’s top dogs up next, taking on the Spartans on Thursday night in East Lansing. In the two teams’ first meeting of the season, the Cats put up a fight but ended up losers as they were unable to keep up. The Spartans didn’t have Adreian Payne in that game, but they will Thursday, making them even more potent.
Unless Northwestern finds the offense it’s been missing in a hurry, things could get out of hand quick.
"We just have to fight for 40 minutes,” Lumpkin said. “When we played them last time, they kind of got away from us in the last 10 minutes or so of the game. They kind of broke the game open. But we feel like we can play with anybody. We just saw, they played Wisconsin, Wisconsin just upset them. We can play with anybody, and we just have to prepare for that game just like any other game."
The continued offensive ineptitude has some wondering if the Wildcats need a change on that end of the court. Collins has already shown willingness to switch things up on the fly. His move to a tough, defensive-oriented mindset flipped the script on Northwestern’s season. But Collins said that on offense, it simply comes down to making shots.
[WATCH: Lumpkin: 'We can play with anybody']
"I'm comfortable with the stuff we're running,” Collins said Tuesday. “A lot of times it comes down to — whether it's your half-court offense against man or your zone offense — you have to make the shots. Everything looks a lot better when the ball goes in the basket, and that's been our biggest problem. It hasn't really been our schemes or what we're doing against man or zone, it's been our ability to consistently make open shots and to be able to find a way to score points. That's going to be something we're going to address the rest of the year. That's not going to change, that's who we've been for 24 games. The nights we've made shots, our offense has been really good.
“We feel like our schemes are good, our guys believe in them. It's just a matter of when you have those shots you've got to be able to make them and make the defense pay."
No team in the Big Ten shoots worse than Northwestern’s 39.8 percent from the field. Michigan State ranks third in the conference with a 46.8-percent mark.