I know there are exceptions to any rule and some experts would disagree with me, but I believe the teams which compete consistently over the long-haul of the Big Ten season are the teams which have some depth on the bench. As I had this thought today, I started to wonder if Northwestern had much depth. Last year the ‘Cats displayed signs of having a good bench as they nearly upset Ohio State without John Shurna and got some solid Big Ten Tournament contributions from Nick Fruendt when JerShon Cobb was out of action. Does that apparent depth translate into 2011-12?
The good news is that NU seems to have five fairly clear starters. Shurna, Luka Mirkovic, Drew Crawford, Cobb, and Alex Marcotullio seem like the logical starting five. At some point Cobb or Marcotullio might end up getting flipped into the sixth man role to bring energy off the bench, but that’s a good sign because it would be an indicator that somebody on NU’s bench stepped up at the guard spot.
Guard is my biggest worry when it comes to depth for NU. After Alex and Drew the ‘Cats are basically looking at freshmen Tre Demps and David Sobolewski both of who suffered injuries within the last calendar year. Are they really going to be ready for the physical grind of college basketball? They better be or else Nick Fruendt is going to get a lot more minutes than he did last year. Could Fruendt handle that responsibility? It’s really hard to say. Based on his BTT play I’d like to say yes. He’d certainly have to be a player that teams needed to account for when the ‘Cats were on offense because he has a confident shot that I think he’ll make a high percentage of if he gets the chance to unload. The bigger issue would be defense and rebounding. Northwestern started a mini-defensive turnaround late last year by playing more man-to-man, but Fruendt’s reputation isn’t great on the defensive end. Could he handle play man or would the ‘Cats be forced back into the 1-3-1 zone if Fruendt were on the court more? In that scenario the good news is Fruendt does offer some size.
Northwestern has a somewhat deeper front court in the sense that both Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti have played a lot of minutes at the center position. Curletti also offers enough versatility that he could backup John Shurna at power forward, but I personally don’t really want Shurna on the bench unless it’s a 20-point game one way of another (Note: he should be on the bench if it’s a 20-point game one way or another as last year proved). Drew Crawford arguably doesn’t have a clear cut backup, but in the rotation Coach Carmody uses I think Marcotullio, Cobb, Fruendt, or one of the freshman could get some action. Northwestern’s small forward spot might as well be a third guard position so it wouldn’t really be a concern to see one of those players there. Once again, though, the freshman and Fruendt become critical. NU’s third freshman is Mike Turner. The local product is regarded as something of a project, but is said to have a high athletic upside. My thought here is that if he can rebound at all he should be in the rotation. If he can sub at one of the front court spots and pull down three or four rebounds in ten minutes of action he potentially becomes a key player.
So does Northwestern have depth? Well, maybe. They’ve got a collection of players on the bench with skill, but three are young and another is fairly untested. Bill Carmody has no fear of using a short bench, but I hope the young guys are good enough he doesn’t have to do so this season.