Attention is turning more towards basketball in many sections of the NU community, but the fact is the Wildcats also play a big football game this weekend against Indiana. If the Wildcats win they will most likely play in some bowl game. If the Hoosiers win, it is likely they will play in a bowl game instead of the Wildcats.
Northwestern is the favorite according to the betters, but the fact is Indiana has a very good chance of winning this game. Injuries have seriously reduced NU’s collection of playmakers and the Wildcats depth is not that great. If NU is to win, they will need big games from the playmakers they have available such as Quentin Davie on defense and Mike Kafka on offense.
Reading the discussion on fan websites and the like, I have to admit the observation that NU football is short on playmakers is probably right on the money. NU has some individual stars, but with many of them hurt, NU just isn’t at full strength. Also, some of NU’s frontline players are not the athletes their opponents are. In fact, at times NU plays four walk-ons out of 11 offensive players. Although one of those walk-ons, Zeke Markshausen, leads the Big Ten in receptions, the fact is it is hard to beat quality division one opponents when almost 40% of your offense didn’t originally get Division one scholarship offers. NU can pull upsets and get a win Saturday, but I believe in order to do so Mick McCall is going to have to turn the page on his playbook and open things up. Indiana has topflight athletes on defense, especially on the D-line, and if NU doesn’t get creative Mike Kafka is going to get smashed as Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton attack NU’s offensive line which may have two former walk-ons and one red-shirt freshman starting.
On the other hand, right now Northwestern’s basketball team has more guys with play making ability than the historical powerhouse Indiana men’s basketball team (though the Hoosiers do have a nice freshmen group). In fact, I think NU has more potential play makers than several Big Ten teams. Most notably, of course, the ‘Cats have Kevin Coble who can drop 30+ on a team at anytime. He’s not the only playmaker Coach Carmody has, though. Michael “Juice” Thompson has the range to hit from anywhere in the gym, and he has shown a clutch time leadership ability the ‘Cats need without departed star Craig Moore. Even Juice isn’t the end of the hoop ‘Cats playmakers, though. Both John Shurna and Jeremy Nash showed the ability to change games last season. Nash played remarkable defense and drove NU’s opponents insane as they tried to pass around him atop the 1-3-1. He also got down in the paint and blocked the shots of big men. Nash might not light up the scoreboard, but he makes plays on D.
John Shurna, on the other hand, might light up the scoreboard a bunch this year. He played on the USA U-19 team this summer and reportedly really worked on his jump shot. He also is NU’s best rebounder so he ought to be able to grab some put back points. He also looks bigger and stronger and that should help as well.
Aside from those four, NU also has potential playmakers in center Luka Mirkovic and guard Drew Crawford. Mirkovic showed flashes last year of being a true Princeton Offense center who can score 10 points and dish out 6 assists and get 6 rebounds on any night. Crawford is allegedly already slamming down alley-op passes from Juice in practice. If he really is that athletic, he’ll change how teams defend NU and that’ll open up shots and for guys like Luka.
Bottom line, I can’t remember a Northwestern basketball squad with so many potential game changing players. If NU is to be successful as they can, though, they must avoid major injuries. More than anything, it has been the MASH unit which NU has needed for their defense which has truly hampered NU’s football success this fall.