Recently the question was posed whether or not Jeff Ryan could return for a fifth year of eligibility. Ryan is eligible to return as he hasn’t taken a redshirt year yet. As that is they case, NU wouldn’t even have to apply for a medical hardship in order to bring him back. However, Northwestern already has 12 of the 13 NCAA-allowed scholarship spots filled for next season if you include Kevin Coble’s fifth year and JerShon Cobb coming in as a freshman. If NU adds a recruit in the spring signing period the ‘Cats will have filled all 13 spots for next year. That would be mean no spot would be available for Jeff Ryan to return. When you consider reports that NU is still recruiting guards in the class of 2010 it sounds like NU’s coaching staff is leaning towards Ryan not returning. Personally, I think this would be a mistake. Yes, NU might miss out a potentially strong player in the 2010 class, but NU has interest from a number of talented players in the 2011 and Northwestern needs to be as experienced as possible next season.
If you look at realistic expectations for Northwestern for the rest of this year and next year, one has to conclude that next season should be a huge year for NU. Yes, Northwestern might be the NCAA Tournament this year, but next year NU could realistically be a top-25 team in the preseason with top-5 Big Ten aspirations. Next year, though, will also offer up a non-conference schedule which will feature several road tests, unlike this season where NU only plays one non-conference road game. NU will have to go to Northern Illinois, DePaul, and Texas Pan-America for sure next season. While none of those three schools are power houses, sometimes teams panic on the road. Having two fifth-year seniors on the floor would certainly help stabilize NU if the team gets into trouble. The experience would be even more valuable if NU renews it’s series with Stanford and travels back to California or takes on an out of state in-season tournament trip which matches the team’s high expectations. A team with Coble, Thompson, and Ryan would be one of the most experienced teams NU ever put on the floor. Also, when you consider that Shurna will be a junior who will have started for 2 years the team would probably be as experienced as any team in the nation. Now, I’m not saying Ryan would start along with those guys, but he could rotate into any spot on the floor expect center. Also, if Coach Carmody wanted, Ryan could even step back into the starting lineup and play the top of 1-3-1 as NU will graduate defensive stopped Jeremy Nash.
Jeff Ryan being a very versatile player is my next point in favor of offering the Glenview, Illinois native a fifth year. If NU adds a point guard recruit, which seems the target, NU would no doubt have valuable asset in a true backup for Juice Thompson who Juice could mentor for a year. NU would not, however, have a player who could back up Thompson, Shurna, Coble, and whoever starts at shooting guard. Jeff Ryan could do so. I think it’s also important to note that NU and other schools have successfully played freshman guards in the past. Therefore, it is not essentially NU add a player to be a backup for a season next year.
Admittedly whoever NU recruited would probably be a better scorer than Ryan, but when you look at NU’s 2010-11 roster the ‘Cats don’t really need another scorer. They’ll have Thompson, Shurna, Coble, Marcotullio, Cobb, Crawford, and probably a center with an improved offensive game in order to put up points. With that group what NU will need is a reliable guy who can offer stability off the bench and play defense and rebound. Ryan can do both those things very well.
The bottom line is while the Chicago Invitational Challenge has me expecting success from NU the rest of this season; I expect a next year to be even better. However, I also expect next year to be even more challenging and believe Jeff Ryan’s experience as a fifth year senior would help NU meet that challenge.