#70 Northwestern: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #70
Conference Rank: #7 Big Ten Conference
2009-10: 20-14, 7-11
2009-10 postseason: NIT
Coach: Bill Carmody (140-163 at Northwestern, 232-188 overall)
The story in Evanston, Illinois was once about Northwestern reaching their first ever NCAA Tournament. They return four starters, the NCAA field was slightly expanded and the Wildcats expected the return of former superstar Kevin Coble. Everything looked good…until Coble opted not to return after averaging 15.5 points per game two years ago. Now the same questions plague the team that did last season.
Key Losses: G Jeremy Nash, C Kyle Rowley
This is still a group that returns a lot of players, but only six averaged over ten minutes per game and the five starters all averaged at least 25 minutes per game. Good conditioning or not, that caught up to Northwestern by the end of the 2009-2010 campaign and will probably do so again. JerShon Cobb, the lone newcomer, will try and help the depth on the perimeter, but it remains to be seen if he can cover for the more experienced players without a huge drop off in production.
Soon after Coble was lost for the season, Jeff Ryan, a 6-7 wing, was injured. He only played in one game last year before the Wildcats were dealt another big blow. Ryan will not put up big numbers, but his leadership should help the team replace defensive specialist Jeremy Nash. The stars on the perimeter are Michael Thompson and Drew Crawford. Thompson is the unquestioned senior leader and averaged 14.2 points and 4.1 assists last year. At times he was painfully inconsistent, but other times he could take over a game. The injuries forced Crawford into a larger role and he responded very well for a freshman, averaging 10.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. With his size and ability to hit the long ball, Northwestern has a dynamic scorer who should only get more confident in 2010-2011. Alex Marcotullio was the only guard to see significant playing time off the bench. He is a solid shooter and should fill that role nicely again this year.
As surprising as the emergence of Drew Crawford was, very few expected John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic to dominate the frontcourt. Shurna, a 6-8, 215 pound junior averaged an impressive 18.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. He made over two three-pointers per game and just about every opposing power forward in the Big Ten had trouble defending him. Mirkovic is a little more of a traditional big man, but like most big men at Northwestern, he can shoot the ball too. Mirkovic had to earn his starting job and he did relatively early in the 2009-2010 campaign. By the end of the season he and Shurna were a very dangerous interior duo and they should be just as dangerous this time around.
Who to Watch:
The problem on this team is depth. Having Ryan back is nice, but losing Coble is huge on so many levels. The transfer of Kyle Rowley is also a much bigger deal than it sounds. Rowley only averaged 9.1 minutes per game last year, but he was the big body who could come in and replace Mirkovic. That will put a lot of pressure on Mike Capocci, Ivan Pelijusic and David Curletti to provide some depth in the frontcourt. However, none of them can bang around in the paint like Rowley or Mirkovic.
Shurna averaged 36.4 minutes per game in 2009-2010, which is almost unheard of from a 6-8 forward. He, like all of Northwestern’s team, does a good job of staying out of foul trouble, but by February and March the tired legs start to set in. Mirkovic averaged a healthier 25.6 minutes per game, but that was when the team had Rowley to come in and steal some minutes here and there. A year of experience for the returning starters will only do so much if Coach Bill Carmody fails to find some quality players down the bench; and even then an NCAA Tournament appearance will still likely be out of reach.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Michael Thompson, Senior, Guard, 14.2 ppg
Drew Crawford, Sophomore, Guard, 10.0 ppg
Jeff Ryan, Senior, Guard, DNP last season
John Shurna, Junior, Forward, 18.2 ppg
Luka Mirkovic, Junior, Center, 7.3 ppg
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