For the record this post is based entirely on my observations and not any statistical measurements. If someone wants to make a stats based post on the same topic I would very much encourage that.
Northwestern has two “name” players they’re John Shurna and Drew Crawford. Shurna has built up his reputation through three solid seasons and playing with USA Basketball over the summer. Crawford built his reputation on being one of the best athletes Northwestern basketball has every recruited and showing the ability to take over games. They both are critically important to any success Northwestern will have in basketball this season, but I don’t think either is NU’s most important player. I believe that is Alex Marcotullio.
The most obvious reason that Marcotullio is critical is because along with JerShon Cobb he probably has to at least start the season as one of the primary replacements for Juice Thompson. Yes, eventually one of NU’s two freshman point guards might take over that position, but I think all indications are that Marcotullio and Cobb will get the first crack at the starting lineup together in the backcourt. With as solid as Thompson was in running the offense and taking care of the ball that responsibility is critical.
The next reason I think Marcotullio is critical is because NU needs someone besides Shurna to go to for a late three point shot. As last year progressed, Alex became a more consistent shooter. In addition, he has proven over the course of his career that he isn’t afraid to take big shots hitting big shots even during his freshman year in wins over N.C. State and Notre Dame. That type of reliable shooter is critical because again that’s a role which Juice filled and needs to be replaced on this year’s team.
Northwestern also needs to rely on Marcotullio because he’s probably the team’s best defender in the 1-3-1 and in man-to-man. He might not be super-athletic, but he does have quick feet and some very active hands. In addition, he seems to be very instinctive about getting his hands on the ball. Northwestern hasn’t exactly struck fear into people’s hearts with their intense defense, but Alex did lead a mini-turnaround late last season.
Finally, I’d say Marcotullio might bring some needed intangibles to this year’s team. Juice was last year’s vocal leader. Looking at the current roster the only player who has stood out as being real vocal is Luka and I don’t see him taking a Juice-like leadership role. However, Marcotullio brings a toughness that might fit a vocal leader so I’ll be looking at the early timeouts this year to see if he is taking charge of the huddle.