Northwestern starts the game portion of the 2010-11 schedule with an exhibition matchup on Thursday against Robert Morris College. The game can be seen on-line at bigtennetwork.com or, of course, by spending $5 to go to Welsh-Ryan Arena. Two years ago NU lost to Robert Morris and then posted one the best seasons in school history, so I don’t honestly expect to learn much from this game, but I’ll be watching a four key areas. Speaking of four, I don’t know if excellence in all these areas can get the ‘Cats to the Final Four in April, but it might get them into the Big Ten Tournament’s final four for the first time.
Northwestern played terrible defense for most of last season. Coach Carmody and the players have admitted as much. If NU could have played even halfway decent defense they likely would have been bound for the NCAA tournament. NU has worked on various defensive changes (including man-to-man) and I will be fascinated to see what defenses NU uses against Robert Morris. Personally, I’d really like NU to just play man-to-man regardless in order to work on it in a game setting. With Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, and John Shurna, NU has athletes who can play man against similar players.
2) The Center Position
The Center combo of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti wasn’t great in Italy and Luka was arguably NU’s most important and inconsistent player last year. When he played well NU won games, but when he was bad the Wildcats were pretty bad as a team. Somehow, NU needs to find a way to get double figure points and at least seven or eight rebounds a game out of these guys combined regularly if they want to compete in the Big Ten.
3) JerShon Cobb
What role NU’s highest rated recruit of the Carmody era will play is a question many fans are asking. I honestly think JerShon will start, but even if he doesn’t, Coach Carmody isn’t going to leave a potential offensive and defensive playmaker on the bench long. It’ll be great to see JerShon on the floor.
4) The Bench
NU’s bench has at times been invisible, but this year it features 5th-year seniors Jeff Ryan and Ivan Peljusic as well past starter Mike Capocci. It’ll also likely feature Alex Marcotullio coming off the pine to add three point shots and aggressive defense. Basically, this should be a good bench and I want to see how Carmody (generally a short rotation type of coach) uses these guys.
What is everyone else going to be watching?