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2012-13 Preview: #9 Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern coming up a bit short of an NCAA tournament invite has been the norm for this program and that trend is likely to continue in 2012-13.

Many of the big names from recent years are gone, including Kevin Coble, Juice Thompson and John Shurna. Perhaps a bit overlooked in the past, the spotlight will be squarely on 6’5” senior wing Drew Crawford. He’s put together a nice career in Evanston already and expecting a lot more than he produced last year might be asking too much.

The Wildcats’ offense has been their strength for the past four years, but an issue for head coach Bill Carmody will be finding a number two guy on the attack.

Meanwhile, there are prospects of a better year defensively and on the boards thanks in large part to transfers into the program.

Northwestern has a nice mixture of experience and youth, but the questions that exist are too significant to expect this to be the year that the Cats finally go dancing.

Glass Half Full

Drew Crawford

Crawford could be in the first team all-conference discussion and returns after an impressive junior year (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 41.2% 3FG). His minutes per game (34.6 in 2011-12) can’t increase much and while his usage could creep up from around 24%, we don’t see a big jump in his offensive rating as likely to occur.

Still, Crawford is a senior and a legitimate Big Ten star.

Help inside

Rebounding and defense have been areas of severe weakness for Northwestern teams, but the hope is some newer faces will help this year.

Nikola Cerina (6’9”, 245) sat out last year after transferring in from TCU where he played two years and achieved a defensive rebounding percentage (DR%) of approximately 18%. Only senior Luka Mirkovic was in the same DR% neighborhood for Northwestern last year and he only played in 19 games.

Graduate transfer Jared Swopshire left a talented Louisville program this summer and is a 6’8” forward who can rebound and defend. He only played 13 minutes per game a year ago, but during the 2009-10 season he averaged 25 minutes and produced a 19% DR%.

If Cerina and Swopshire aren’t doing the job, other options include two huge freshmen in 7’0”, 275 pound Alex Olah and 7’2”, 235 pound Chier Ajou.

Alex Marcotullio

The senior guard was bothered by a toe injury and concussion last year, but still averaged 20.6 mpg and 5.6 ppg in 29 games played. He’s a spot shooter that doesn’t get too involved, but he can be very accurate from deep and if healthy will be a strong contributor. 

Glass Half empty

Who’s number two?

Crawford can carry the bulk of the scoring for Northwestern, but the normally efficient offensive attack of Northwestern needs a second guy to step up. There isn’t a guy on this year’s roster that jumps out as a clear 20%+ usage scorer and we believe this will be an issue in this year’s team trying to match or better past performances.

JerShon Cobb was a guy who may have been ready to make a dramatic jump after dealing with injuries, but academic issues have resulted in him being required to sit out the season.

David Sobolewski

The issue here isn’t that Sobolewski isn’t good. In fact, the issue is that point guard was too good as a freshman. He averaged more than 35 minutes per game and posted an offensive rating of approximately 111, while keeping his turnover percentage under 17%. His shooting percentage left room for improvement, but we’re hesitant to expect a meaningful rise in his Value Add even as a sophomore.

If Sobolewski comes through as an efficient 20% possession usage guy, the outlook for Northwestern brightens significantly.

Reggie Hearn 

Like Sobolewski, this is a comparability issue. Hearn, a 6’4” former walk on and more of an interior forward type in high school, deserves a lot of respect. Last year (26.1 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 62.5% 2FG, 37.1% 3FG) he got his chance and impressed, especially in conference play (28.6 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 44.0% 3FG). Hearn could cut down some on his turnovers, but we can’t expect him to equal his 58.8% effective field goal percentage. 

Lack of impressive victories

Keeping things close makes for an entertaining game, but the Wildcats couldn’t seal the deal in 2011-12. Three overtime losses (including a must-win game in the Big Ten tourney) and another three conference games lost by 1 or 2 points in regulation gives the appearance of something more than just bad luck.

The Wildcats were fine against lesser opponents, but went 1-8 against the top half of the conference.

Other Comments

  • In addition to the two big men discussed above, the 2012 incoming freshmen class includes two kids who could help this year in 6’7” Kale Abrahamson and 6’6” Sanjay Lumpkin.
  • Redshirt freshman and Chicago product Mike Turner has added some size and could be a nice surprise for the Cats.
  • Prior to the start of last season, freshman point guard Tre Demps was injured, but gave it a shot before going under the knife after four games. It’s been a long road to recovery for his shoulder, but he’s now ready to go.
  • 2013 Recruiting: This summer Northwestern received commitments from Jaren Sina, a smart point guard from the east coast, and Nate Taphorn, a 6’7” shooter from the Peoria, Ill. area. 

A Look Back at 2011-12 Preseason Preview Quote(s)“A scenario that sees Iowa and Indiana leapfrog Northwestern in the next couple of years seems likely.”

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