Sunday, November 4, 2012

…And We’re Back

We are back and ready to start the 2012-13 men’s basketball season for the Northwestern Wildcats. This is a season that many fans once again enter with great expectations, but it will feature a somewhat different looking Northwestern team. Gone is NU’s all-time leading scorer in John Shurna and missing due to suspension is dynamic (but often injured) guard JerShon Cobb. Instead, the Wildcats will need consistency from the maddeningly inconsistent Drew Crawford and some help inside from several fresh faces.

What do I expect this season? Well, I must admit that I feel similar to what I’ve felt the last couple years which is the feeling that NU will be right in the thick of the race for an NCAA Tournament bid, but will in the end fall a little short. What’s different though is that in the last few years NU’s failure to make the tournament was based on failures on defense or rebounding, this year I’m worried about offense. I think the ‘Cats will take a major step forward on the glass this season. Adding 7-foot 275-pound freshmen Alex Olah who is reported to be “the real deal” by NU insiders should help tremendously with the lack of rebounding NU struggled with in the past. In addition, Olah is reported to be a competent scorer around the basket who knows how to make sure the ball ends up in the hoop. Even better, he said that when watching the ‘Cats play last season he was most frustrated by the lack of offensive aggressiveness shown by his predecessors at center Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti. Olah will be joined in the starting front court by one of the more exciting additions NU has had via transfer. Jared Swopshire is a 6-8 forward who joins NU for a year as a grad student after playing three years for Louisville. Swop hit two threes in the Final Four against Michigan State last March. I’m not sure if any of NU’s other transfers (such as the big Mike Thompson) played in the Final Four at their previous schools, but I’m certain none were as significant contributors to a team which was just a step away from the National Title as Swopshire was. His addition should be a huge boost for NU not just in terms of talent, but in terms of providing NU a leader who knows what it takes to reach that next step which NU keeps missing. Backups in the front court are another transfer in 6-9 245-pound Nikola Cerina who sat out last year after transferring from TCU and 6-8 Mike Turner who redshirted last year, but is expected to provide NU with a unique athletic dimension the team has not previously featured. I’m probably most excited to see Cerina amongst the newcomers as he’s reported to be the team’s most explosive player. I’m really curious what that explosiveness looks like. NU also has three true freshmen front court players. 6-7 forward Kale Abrahamson, 6-10 Aaron “The Jewish Dwight Howard” Liberman, and 7-2 Chier Ajou. How much those three will play is unclear and I wouldn’t be shocked to see at least one redshirt, but without a doubt NU has more depth than ever before up front.

NU’s backcourt has some less depth thanks to JerShon Cobb’s academic issues, but the ‘Cats do return 6-5 swing man Drew Crawford who was third in the Big Ten in scoring last season along with fellow starters Dave Soblewski and Reggie Hearn. Hearn shot 44% from three point range in Big Ten games last year before hitting the wall totally in the NIT at Washington and looking like he couldn’t have thrown the ball into Lake Michigan from Lakeside Field. Sobolewski was one of the best distributors in the Big Ten last year as a freshman, but needs to become a more regular producer of points this season. The good news is that he showed flashes of offensive punch and if Olah, Swopshire, and Cerina make teams worry about NU’s production in the post it seems logical that Dave will be the player who most benefits. A close second to that might be Alex Marcotullio who probably contributed more last year as the dynamic defender at the top of NU’s 1-3-1 zone, but who has the ability to be a light’s out three point shooter. Alex Marco3llio4 as he goes by on twitter will need to drill some big threes this year and along with Crawford show the leadership Coach Bill Carmody needs from his seniors. Somewhere in the guard rotation should be redshirt freshmen Tre Demps and true freshmen Sanjay Lumpkin. I’m hoping both will provide not only added depth but a little more athletic skill which will get NU more points going towards the hoop and give Marcotullio some rest and help in playing aggressive defense.

The team plays an exhibition against former Big Ten Conference foe the University of Chicago this Wednesday and then opens officially next Tuesday against former Big Ten Conference coach Mike Davis and Texas Southern.

1 comment:

the ranch lives! said...

I agree with your overall synopsis and it's natural to be concerned about a fall-off in offensive production with Shurna's departure. (Imagine if you had Shura one more year with this group-OMG!) But with their major addition of "SIZE" this can well be a major factor in the last 5 minutes of a game which was our achilles heel last year. It was SO frustrating in tight games last year to see opponents just pound the ball inside and exploit our major weaknesses.(Still don't understand why Carmody didn't demand guys to provide double team help to Luka against guys like Sullinger. Yes, he could kick it out and an OSU shooter could score but you have to take risks in those situations. I mean really? Luka v Sullinger...1-1? C'mon, man. My point is that if the Cats can keep games close, with their size the probability of ball control and possession increases tenfold. Plus they have fouls to give with a deeper bench.There's a lot of pressure on Crawford to not only perform consistently but provide vital senior leadership. He's a great kid and I wish he and all the Cats the very best. Assuming these big guys aren't stiffs and that our perimeter guys do their jobs, I think these Cats can surprise us all. Go Cats!