Position Group: Forwards
Players Included: Kevin Coble, John Shurna, Jeff Ryan, Mike Capocci
Northwestern’s forward crew featured the Wildcats best overall player in Kevin Coble, however, other than Coble (who would get an A or A-) I don’t think I would give any other individual forward a grade higher than B-. Coble and John Shurna both started all 31 games for Northwestern. They finished first and third on the team in rebounding and first and fourth in scoring. Coble, of course, was the ‘Cats leading scorer with 15.5 ppg. In doing so, he had some spectacular games like the one at MSU or the home game against Ohio State. Also, at the end of the year Coble’s three point shooting picked up enough for him to finish at 39.5% from behind the arc, that was third on the team among Wildcat starters. If Coble improves to the low-mid 40s next year in thee point shooting, I think he could lead the Big Ten in scoring. Coble finished this year with 4.8 rpg, which as noted above, led the Wildcats. This is a feat which Coble will hopefully not repeat next year. Either Shurna or one of NU’s large centers needs to step up on the rebounding front and provide assistance to Kevin in this area. Another area where NU’s two lead forwards excelled was in blocks. Coble blocked 19 shots and Shurna 18. These were the highs for NU. Hopefully, both will block even more next year as the Wildcats certainly can use help in terms of post defense. Coble also gets high marks for tying for the team lead in steals with 41 and dishing out 76 assists against only 43 turnovers.
As a freshman Shurna gets high marks for leading the team in offensive rebounds, but he needs to become more aggressive when hitting the defensive boards. With his size and athletic skills, he is the type of player who should be able to pull down at least 5 rpg. Unfortunately, Shurna committed 38 turnovers and gave out only 32 assists. Also, the young freshman did not record many steals (14). However, my concern with NU’s front court defense was not the number of steals Shurna got, it was the number of times more athletic forwards were able to drive right by him and Coble and get to the hoop. Improving the defensive play of these two players will be a key for next season. Another key area for improvement will be Shurna’s three point shooting. Perhaps because of his odd release, Shurna is a very streaky shooter. He seems to either hit 4-of-6 or 1-of-6 in every game. With Craig Moore departed, Shurna needs to bring his percentage from beyond the arc up from 34.7% to around 40% if the Wildcats want to be as effective on offense next year as they were this year.
NU’s primary backups at the forward position were Jeff Ryan and Mike Capocci. However, since NU used a lot of three guard lineups with Jeremy Nash replacing either Shurna or Coble, Capocci didn’t really see much time. If I were to give Capocci an individual grade for the season I would probably mark him incomplete. He had a couple nice moments in games during the year, but more than anything I hope he emerges next year into a Jeremy Nash type role. As far as Jeff Ryan, I give him great credit for his defense in the upset win at Purdue. If he hadn’t contained Robbie Hummel, NU wouldn’t have won. That said, I was disappointed in Ryan’s offense. Before the Big Ten season started, I wrote Ryan’s play would be critical as he is one of NU’s best athletes. However, he never seemed to use his athletic skill on the offensive end. I hope Ryan becomes more aggressive on the offense in his senior year as I still believe he has all the skills to be a great offensive player, he just hasn’t been able to fully realize them yet. Perhaps he will do so next year and become a key cog in NU’s success.