Next Year Looking More and More Like “The Year” For Northwestern

Posted by KTrahan on December 18th, 2012

Every year, the question remains the same for a Northwestern team perpetually on the bubble: Can the Wildcats sneak into the NCAA Tournament? Last summer, it certainly seemed like this could be the year that NU would make the Big Dance for the first time in school history. Bill Carmody finally had two big men, an impressive recruiting class, a graduate transfer, and a solid group of returning stars including Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and JerShon Cobb.

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

However, things don’t always go as planned in college basketball, and NU certainly learned that quickly this year. Cobb was suspended for the season due to academic problems, the new players haven’t adjusted as quickly as fans had hoped, and Crawford wasn’t playing at all like himself. Now, we at least have an answer for the latter issue, as NU announced over the weekend that Crawford will miss the remainder of the season to have surgery on a torn labrum. Adding Crawford’s injury to the doubts following an inconsistent start to the season, it’s looking more and more like this won’t be “the year” for the Wildcats. But could that be a good thing for NU?

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Big Ten M5: 11.07.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 7th, 2012

  1. Michigan State freshman guard Denzel Valentine got a rough awakening in his first college game, putting together a sloppy performance against St. Cloud State. He’ll have to be much better in the Spartans’ regular season opener against UConn in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday. While Valentine had five points, five assists and 10 rebounds in the exhibition, he also had eight turnovers, and coach Tom Izzo called for a better performance this weekend. Izzo went as far as to call Valentine the Spartans’ best passer, but he warned that the freshman needs to “learn to play at the speed of college instead of the speed of high school.” However, Izzo pointed out that Magic Johnson had “eight or nine” turnovers against Central Michigan in his MSU debut, and “he turned out OK.”
  2. The loss of Jordan Taylor looks, at least on paper, to be the biggest obstacle the Wisconsin lineup faces this season. However, the Badger Herald argues that not having Taylor on the team might be a good thing for the Badgers. There is no doubt that Taylor was a very talented guard, but because he was the Badgers’ go-to scorer, the author argues that he actually detracted from Bo Ryan’s system. In that system, everyone must be able to shoot, but since Taylor was the one very reliable option, others didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage. With Taylor now gone, other players who can collectively take on his role will be forced to step up.
  3. One thing is clear about Ohio State this year: The Buckeyes have a lot of pure talent. Experience, though? Not so much. This lack of experience means OSU has a bit of an identity crisis heading into the season. Last year, the Buckeyes could rely on Aaron Craft, William Buford or Jared Sullinger to make plays when needed, but with Buford and Sullinger now gone, Craft and DeShaun Thomas will be called upon to lead the way. Leadership is often something that a player either embraces or he doesn’t, and we have every reason to believe that both returnee upperclassmen will take on the challenge put forth on them by head coach Thad Matta. But one minor critique of Craft after Tuesday night’s exhibition game: It’s not “October” anymore.
  4. The biggest criticism of last year’s Purdue team was its size, as the Boilermakers were often forced to play forward Robbie Hummel at center. This year, there is a lot of inexperience in West Lafayette, but Matt Painter’s team certainly will have more than enough size to compete in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers add three freshmen who are 6’8″ or taller, including 7-footer AJ Hammons. Painter notes that Purdue must become a better rebounding team, and that the Boilermakers “are in trouble” if that is not the case, especially considering the scoring punch that they lose from Hummel. However, with so much size at his disposal, rebounding should improve if the freshmen pan out as expected. As long as Purdue can get “possessions back on the glass,” they should be able to make up for some of the loss of last year’s offensive output.
  5. Speaking of size, Northwestern should also have a much bigger, albeit much more inexperienced, frontcourt this season. The Wildcats add two 7-foot freshmen, two more freshman forwards, a junior forward transfer and a graduate forward transfer. Lost in the shuffle is Mike Turner, a redshirt freshman center, who, at 6’8″, is undersized for his position, but he should also be slated for some minutes for the Wildcats this year. Turner admitted that it’s a mismatch trying to size up to some of the larger centers in the league, but he is also a mismatch for many of those who will struggle to defend his quickness. Turner isn’t likely to start for the Wildcats, but after a year in anonymity, he should see the court enough to make some noise even if he’s much smaller than the opponents he matches up against.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

  1. Last year’s Northwestern team had so little depth that at times it was forced to use just six players all game and play John Shurna at the center spot. This year, the Wildcats will be fine depth-wise as they bring in nine new players. Yes, nine. Three of them are redshirts — freshmen Tre Demps and Mike Turner both sat out last year, as did junior Nikola Cerina, who transferred in from TCU. The Wildcats also added two seven-footers — freshmen Alex Olah and Chier Ajou — at center and graduate transfer forward Jared Swopshire, who came to Evanston from Louisville and is expected to make a major impact on the court. Chris Johnson, a Rush the Court contributor who also runs with me, sat down with coach Bill Carmody to preview all nine freshmen. Carmody seems very excited about Swopshire and added some insight into the center situation, saying Olah has the upper hand on Ajou right now. He was also high on Sanjay Lumpkin, a freshman guard/forward combo who fits nicely in NU’s system and should see significant playing time.
  2. Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz was injured in a workout on October 9, running into the bottom of the hoop and gashing his leg. He could see his bone through the gash and needed over 40 stitches to close it up, but luckily, it was just a flesh wound. Bruesewitz is still recovering, but he finally opened up about the injury that he initially feared could be much worse. He said he first thoughts were if he could ever play — or even ever walk — again. Bruesewitz will play again this year, though the timeline for his return is unclear.’s Andy Katz reported that Bruesewitz likely won’t be available for the Badgers’ November 14 game at Florida, but could be back for a November 23 contest against Creighton in Las Vegas.
  3. The Big Ten basketball media poll was released yesterday, and not surprisingly, Indiana ended up in first place. The poll included 24 writers — two from each team — and the Hoosiers received 21 first place votes, with Michigan, the second-place team, taking the remaining first-place votes. Interestingly, Ohio State was picked behind the Wolverines in the Big Ten, despite being ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Top 25. You can see the whole poll at the link above. Look out for No. 6 Minnesota and No. 10 Northwestern as sleepers, while No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Illinois might be susceptible to a fall. Obviously, preseason rankings aren’t that important, but it’s an interesting look at how deep the league is and how far down some good teams are buried.
  4. Michigan State is the first school to land a visit from top recruit Jabari Parker, who will make the trip to East Lansing this weekend. The Spartans are in the top five finalists for Parker, who also lists Duke, Florida, BYU and Stanford as possibilities. MSU has yet to secure a commitment in the Class of 2013, losing out on James Young to Kentucky and Jonathan Williams III to Missouri. However, ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep tells the Lansing State Journal that Parker is the Spartans’ top priority, and now they’re shifting their focus to underclassmen since most other top 2013 recruits have already committed.
  5. The common refrain for coaches whose teams receive high rankings typically goes something like this: “We aren’t worried about preseason rankings. We have to take care of business on the court or else that doesn’t matter.” But not Tom Crean. The Indiana coach had a very different response to his team being preseason No. 1, writes Bob Kravitz in the Indianapolis Star. “How cool is that?” Crean said. Some people will see that comment as cocky or misguided, but it’s refreshing to see a coach who doesn’t pretend to ignore the media and preseason rankings. As Kravitz wrote, Crean knows the ranking is meaningless in terms of how IU will fare this season, but it’s an important stepping stone for a coach whose team went 6-25 in his first year in Bloomington.
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Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Northwestern Wildcats.

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

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