2012-2013 Overall Rank: #81
Conference Rank: #9 Big Ten
Northwestern Team Page
Let us just get this out of the way…this will not be the year Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament. Sure they return four starters and bring in some talented players, but if John Shurna was not going to lead them to their first NCAA Tournament ever, they will not make it without him. They will make it without him eventually, but not now. The Wildcats were ever so close to making it to the “First Four” but they lost by two to Ohio State on Senior Day and then fell to Minnesota in their first game in the Big Ten Tournament. Thus, the Wildcats went to the NIT, where they beat Akron before getting crushed at Washington.
2011-12 Record: 19-14, 8-10
2011-12 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Bill Carmody
Coach Record: 179-191 at Northwestern, 271-216 overall
Shurna was a big 6-9 forward who could do it all. He averaged a smooth 20.0 points per game and connected on 44.0 percent of his 6.5 attempts from beyond the arc per contest. He even led the team with 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and added 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals per contest. Losing Shurna would be enough to keep the Wildcats on the outside looking in yet again, but losing the only other two forwards or centers on the roster that saw any playing time last year does not help. Luka Mirkovic had a relatively disappointing senior season, which ended up being cut short by an injury. Davide Curletti was forced into more playing time and did a decent job on the glass and defensively, but never consistently lived up to his potential on offense. Those three provided all of the depth in the frontcourt. The others are actually guards who were forced to play out of position. The lone guard lost is Nick Fruendt, who averaged just 5.5 minutes per game.
So this list better have some big guys on it and it has some very good ones. Jared Swopshire is the big name. The Louisville grad is eligible immediately after averaging 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds with the Cardinals last season. He will put up much better numbers than that, but it is not like he is heading to play in a minor conference where his 6-8, 210 pound frame can dominate in the paint. Nikola Cerina has plenty of DI experience as well. The 6-9, 245 pound junior spent two years at TCU before heading to Evanston, Illinois. Cerina was with the team last year and that experience in Northwestern’s system will be helpful. Cerina was not a big time scorer for the Horned Frogs though, averaging 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds as a starter two years ago. Redshirt freshman Mike Turner added some bulk to his frame while on the bench last year, but Northwestern is most excited about a pair of really big true freshmen. Alex Olah is a seven-footer who actually has the girth to battle in the paint. That is rare for a seven-footer, especially a freshman. Chier Ajou is 7-2 and adds even more size to the frontcourt. However, they are freshmen and expecting them to come in and battle in the Big Ten is asking way too much. The Wildcats do not really need much help on the perimeter, but they could get it anyway. Tre Demps played in four games as a freshman before suffering a season ending shoulder injury. Kale Abrahmson is a big, lanky small forward who could spend some time at the four spot if necessary. Sanjay Lumpkin, at 6-6, could spend time at the four spot as well. Ideally those young wings will not have to play much since the hope is the big guys can handle the minutes at the four and five spots, but if Northwestern wants to, or more likely needs to, play small, they at least have options.
Who to Watch:
The Wildcats do not lack in firepower on the perimeter. In fact, Drew Crawford could very well break that other little drought Northwestern has going and get drafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. The 6-5 wing has all the skills needed to be a fine shooting guard at the next level. At this level, he has to do a lot more than shoot. Yet, Crawford is a very good outside shooter and an even better all-around scorer. After tallying 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest last year, Crawford should be in for a huge senior season. After Crawford the scoring dropped heavily and somebody will need to step up and help out Crawford in that department. Reggie Hearn was a walk-on, but ended up starting 33 games last season. He is a decent scorer both inside and out. JerShon Cobb is another big guard who has plenty of starting experience. Cobb struggled to find his shot as a sophomore, but he will still use his size to attack the basket. Alex Marcotullio, a 6-3 senior, is at the least a quality shooter off of the bench, but he has the potential to be more than that.
The man who could get Northwestern close to another NCAA Tournament could be Dave Sobolewski. As a freshman he stepped right into a starting role and led the Wildcats with 3.7 assists and only averaged 1.4 turnovers. He also was third on the team with 8.3 points per contest. If Sobolewski can keep the offense moving and working towards their strengths and add a bit of a scoring punch of his own, the Wildcats offense can win some games with just the group on the perimeter. This is a team that should be able to knock down plenty of long balls at a pretty good percentage, but creating those shots will be tough. No longer can the ball be worked through the guys who can score in the post. Maybe some new post scorers will emerge to help collapse the defense, but it may be up to Sobolewski to do more driving and dishing this year. But Swopshire should at least be a threat offensively even if the depth in the frontcourt remains questionable. If the freshmen show up ready to go, the Wildcats big men suddenly look pretty good and maybe this is a team that can come painfully close to another NCAA Tournament bid.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
David Sobolewski, Sophomore, Guard, 8.3 points per game
Reggie Hearn, Senior, Guard, 7.4 points per game
Drew Crawford, Senior, Guard, 16.1 points per game
Jared Swopshire, Senior, Forward, DNP last season
Nikola Cerina, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Madness 2013 NBA Draft Rankings:
#44 Drew Crawford