The Loss of Kevin Coble Doesn’t Kill Northwestern’s NCAA HopesPosted by rtmsf on July 28th, 2010
John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. He is also very familiar with the Chicago area basketball scene.
By now you’ve heard that Kevin Coble will not play for the Northwestern Wildcats during the 2010-11 season, or ever again. The recovery from his broken foot is taking longer than expected, and instead of continuing through grueling rehab with the chance of injuring it again during the season which would come with possible life-altering implications, Coble has decided to hang up his basketball shoes. Of course, this story is getting a lot of national attention because of Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought and the fact that “everyone” thought that Coble returning was the magic elixir that was going to solve all of the Wildcats’ problems.
I’m here to tell you that “they” were wrong. Coble’s return wasn’t going to fix the thing that Northwestern has to work on more than anything to make the NCAA Tournament — defense. The Wildcats had one of the most efficient offenses in the country last season. They scored 1.12 points per possession, which ranked 33d in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency statistics. Being the 33d best offense in the country is more than enough to make the NCAA Tournament. The problem was Northwestern’s 169th ranked defense. If Coble had been able to return at full strength this coming season he still wouldn’t have provided the defensive presence that the Wildcats need. A foot injury is exactly the type of problem that hinders your lateral movement, and it is the key to staying in front of people cutting with the basketball. Even when the doctors say you’re fully recovered, these types of injuries aren’t over. So even if Coble had completed his rehab he’d probably be wondering, “What happens if I try this?” on the basketball court. If you’re taking time to wonder, you’re taking too long.
When Coble was healthy he led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding, and while his rebounding would be nice to have next season, his scoring wouldn’t have been necessary. Coble was essentially the same player his first three seasons at Northwestern with an offensive rating around 110 in approximately a quarter of the team’s possessions while he was on the court. He also had a rebounding rate of 2.7% on the offensive boards and 15.5% on the defensive boards. But you know whose numbers were better than that last season? John Shurna. Shurna replaced Coble in the lineup last year and became an even better offensive threat. He’s still improving too. His national team experiences appear to have helped him elevate his game. It’s also worth noting that Drew Crawford as a freshman put up an offensive rating of 107.5 and Michael Thompson put up a ridiculous 115.9 last season. With JerShon Cobb coming in and Alex Marcotullio improving, the Wildcats are surely going to be just as good, if not better, on offense next season.
But what about the rebounding? Would Coble have helped that much there? Maybe. Laugh if you want, but Kyle Rowley — who has since transferred to St. Mary’s — led last year’s team in defensive rebounding percentage. There are players on the court that have to want to get the ball. I firmly believe that rebounding is about athleticism and desire. If the 2010-11 edition is truly Northwestern’s most athletic team ever then the boards should come. Rebounding also comes down to scheme. At some point Bill Carmody is going to have to realize that the 1-3-1, while great for an occasional change of pace, shouldn’t be a team’s main offering. Given the expected athleticism and if Jeff Ryan returns completely healthy, expect the Wildcats to play more man-to-man and other more traditional defenses during the season. Finally, Coble wasn’t coming back to be a leader. Sure he’s made some clutch baskets in the past, and no one will ever forget his show against Michigan State in 2009, but this is Thompson’s team now. He’s the leader and the most critical piece of the lineup. The Cats won’t lack for leadership with he and Ryan returning, and they’ll have two weeks of practice and playing time in Italy this summer to continue to bond together.
The team is going to be alright without Coble. The sky is not falling in Evanston — I know because I work there. The Wildcats can, and should, win this season. At worst they should be a middle of the pack Big Ten team. With the NCAA Tournament newly expanded to 68 teams there is room for another one of those. There are no excuses. Even without Coble, now is still the Wildcats’ time. And as for the newly-retired guard, this is where his hoops saga ends. He gave his team three years of his life and lost one to a difficult foot injury. He dealt with his mother’s cancer, during which he also missed some time, and the rigorous academic expectations of Northwestern. He’s served as an example to many that you can be successful on the court and in the classroom. He’ll be graduating in December and he should be thanked for his efforts. Coble decided his lifelong health was more important than hanging on for the chance at an NCAA Tournament berth, and that’s a decision I hope that all 22-year-olds would be mature enough to make.