Even in Summer, Competition Making Northwestern Stronger

Wow, Northwestern landed another recruit for basketball as Bill Carmody and company continue to fill the treasure chest with lots of good players. The hope is that Northwestern will be at a level that will have the team competing for NCAA Tournament berths like it has been the last four years (albeit, actually breaking through every once in a while). When NU gets to that point, perhaps it will take a few more risks with its scheduling — I realize I came down a little harsh on the schedule, but it represents the same formula that puts a lot of pressure on the team to do well late in the season and in Big Ten play overall leaving little margin for error.

Maybe this year though things will fall into place.

While the future continues to look exceedingly bright, the present is beginning to look like something different. There is size. There is versatility. There is — gasp — depth.

The Wildcats of 2013 do not appear to be a team that will run out of gas at the end of the year as minutes pile up like last season — John Shurna played 92.3 percent of Northwestern’s minutes last year and Drew Crawford played 85.6 percent of the team’s minutes. As I noted before, this team feels two deep at every position if freshmen come in and contribute.

Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps can split point guard duties. Alex Marcotullio, JerShon Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin at shooting guard. Drew Crawford and Kale Abrahamson at small forward. Jared Swopshire and Michael Turner at power forward. And Alex Olah and Nikola Cerina at center. Reggie Hearn fits in there somewhere too. You can see even from that rough depth chart that Northwestern is stacked with the most talent and potential it has had in a long time.

Bill Carmody told reporters that they know him. It is not likely he is going to go 10 deep once the season starts. Carmody will, as always it seems, rely on his starters although not to the extent he did last year.

Undoubtedly the center piece of this potential remains what Drew Crawford can do. And the main engine driving him to get better might be the guy he practices against every day in practice, as Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune related this weekend:


Here’s the scene at Welsh-Ryan Arena: It’s 9 a.m. but already steamy, and some players are bent over in exhaustion at the end of a two-hour scrimmage.


But not Jared Swopshire, the transfer from Louisville, or Drew Crawford, the heart of Northwestern basketball.


Swopshire hits a short fadeaway over Crawford, who responds with an 18-foot jumper. Swopshire nails a tough lefty hook over Crawford, who then drains a 3-pointer. Suddenly it’s a game of one-on-one with eight witnesses.


Swopshire is still something of a mystery to Northwestern fans. Nobody is quite sure what role he will play in the upcoming season. His stats at Louisville are somewhat deceptive because of the limited minutes he played — 13.1 minutes per game last season. The best he ever averaged per 40 minutes was 12 points per 40 minutes and 10 rebounds per 40 minutes in 2010.

Swopshire seems like he will be an intangible contributor to this team. One of those intangible ways might be in pushing Crawford in practice through these one-on-one games Greenstein reported.

A high tide lifts all boats.

Pat Fitzgerald always talks about the value of competition within the football team. It has helped raise the level of play within the roster (perhaps to an obvious ceiling). Basketball has never really seen that effect because, frankly, the team has only been able to go two or three players deep into the bench. There have not been 10 guys on the roster that you could unequivocally believe could get playing time.

At this point, Northwestern feels confident with eight or nine guys. That is a significant difference over six or seven. Moving forward, that will make things better.

Perhaps this is all summer optimism and cliche. After all, basketball season is not until November. But likely the battles going on in the limited summer practice sessions and contact the players have with Carmody and the coaches are going to make players better and breed competition for what hopefully will be an NCAA Tournament breakthrough.

Shurna struggling, Juice waiting in Vegas

A quick Summer League update from Las Vegas.

John Shurna started the first three games of the Summer League, but is struggling a bit to find his offense. He is averaging 3.7 points per game and shooting 3-for-13 through the three games so far. Hardly the efficient whiz kid we knew at Northwestern.

Hopefully Shurna is keeping his head up. There is sure to be an offer from a team in Europe if he cannot crack an NBA roster. And, we don’t see how he did in practice. The Hawks have two more games — July 18 at 7 p.m. CT and July 19 at 5 p.m. CT both on NBATV — to show what he has.

Juice made his “NBA debut” last night against Milwaukee for New Orleans. He logged four and a half minutes and went 0 for 3 from the floor with two missed 3-pointers. Hopefully this is a prelude to Juice getting a little more time on the floor — 10th overall pick Austin Rivers is getting heavy playing time in these 40-minute games.  The Hornets are back in action July 18 at 7:30 p.m. CT.

  • Chadnudj

    Not just this, but the new NCAA rule allowing basketball teams to practice together with coaches for 2 hours per week in the offseason also will be a HUGE advantage to Northwestern, in that it allows the incoming freshmen to get extra time/practice to learn the Princeton offense. Ideally, this means the new guys should be more ready than new players in the past to contribute quickly (should we need them to do so).

  • Sportsbiz

    Cat fans will be pleasantly surprised by Swopshire. The only reason he didn’t start this past season is that he was coming off an injury and a year away from competitive ball and foundmhimself competing with a freshman All-American for playing time. As a freshman he started, played major minutes and was a double figure scorer a Final Four team. Plus he’s an excellent rebounder and defender.

    He will remind paper in some ways of Shurna. He is not the shooter, nor does he have Shurna’s range, but he too rebounds above his body weight is a tenacious on ball defender and a god passer who is comfortable inside and out. Most Cardinal fans were not happy with his departure.