Northwestern facing scary lack of depth

Northwestern facing scary lack of depth

As the season begins, we all realize that NU badly lacks depth.

Eight players.

That's scary.

Dave Sobolewski, Jershon Cobb, Sanjay Lumpkin, Drew Crawford, Alex Olah, Tre Demps, Nate Taphorn, Nikola Cerina.

Your 2013-14 Northwestern basketball roster looks awfully incomplete – with potential but without alternatives.

Chris Collins may use Kale Abrahamson and perhaps Chier Ajou, but that seems unlikely to happen consistently. James Montgomery III and Aaron Liberman are likely relegated to the bench, forever.

The new coach has been forced to accept reality: As the season begins, Northwestern badly lacks depth. Can you imagine if any one of the eight players went down with injury? In all likelihood, one or two will, and that should terrify Collins and his staff.

That's not to deny some palpable optimism; I've been the first to predict an overachieving team carried by terrific leadership and better coaching. Really, it's rare to think of entire basketball units. Even in discussing NU basketball, we praise Crawford, hold varying opinions of Cobb (still an unproven scorer, guys) and the same opinion of Sobolewski. Aside from Iowa fans, who actively considers the 10-man structure of their team?

Almost immediately on Wednesday, though, NU fans could witness the lack of roster flexibility. Instead of being able to throw out change-of-pace lineups, Collins will shuffle through the same groups of five all season long. And that's a shame when you want to compete in the Big Ten.

We noticed another thing almost immediately: Drew Crawford left with the game with two fouls, and that limited the usable player list to seven. Nate Taphorn functioned as his backup, but then again, Tap might need to spell Sanjay Lumpkin — and that time adds up. The prospect of foul trouble might also force Collins to hesitate when considering playing Olah and Cerina at the same time. You can't take adequate risks without adequate depth.

Even worse, the Wildcats lack substantial backups at the positions they need most. JerShon Cobb was forced into the backup point guard role — which he has no business in. Despite his strong overall defense, you can't plug any random guy in at the one-spot and expect him to find success. Cobb lacks the ball-handling, passing and playmaking ability to play point guard at this level. Sobo's never going to be a star, sure, but at least he can distribute and show off his excellent basketball IQ.

I'm someone who believes that Nikola Cerina might excel as the starting power forward for NU. He's the quintessential six-point, six-rebound guy with enough experience and defensive ability to make everyone else better. (That's a fundamental difference, as Collins wants his stretch-four ideal as well as the "four-around-one" offense that could be very, very risky in this Big Ten. Not my type.)

Regardless, he's forced to play out of position and act as the team's backup center. It worked against Lewis. It really did. But at 6'9–three inches shorter than Olah–Cerina lacks the natural physical makeup to outdo other Big Ten centers. Add in the fact that NU's one true power forward is playing center, and this depth chart honestly seems like a mess.

I'm buying Chris Collins, everything about him.

I like his technique of giving players confidence; he's called everyone the "best" at some skill or another.

I watched the arrangement against Lewis, and thought: "Eh, there's certainly some hope."

Days later I look at the roster, and consider it.

Some things are just illusions.

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