Momentary Mental Break For Wildcat Hoops

College basketball media day came and went last week and we at LTP barely made mention of the event. It took place near Chicago and that didn’t even get us to dedicate any time to storylines, quotes or commentary. Yet, as someone who was highly critical of Bill Carmody during the past two seasons, I’ve got to give kudos where they are merited and based on the incredible reloading of personnel, I find myself very optimistic about THIS being the year.

Of course, as luck would have it, the B1G is stacked this season, so our best may not be good enough as the Top 25 is populated with conference members. Indiana is the pre-season #1, Ohio State is #4, Michigan is #5, Sparty is #14 and Wisconsin is #23.  There really is no “bottom” of the pack as Iowa has improved and Penn State is never an easy out. Going .500 in conference this year would be a monumental feat if the rankings hold true throughout the year.

We’ll be covering the ‘Cats all season long, which amazingly begins next week with a game against DIII University of Chicago and really doesn’t heat up on the schedule until post Thanksgiving. Perhaps the fact we’ve held out this long on writing about hoops shows just how much focus there has been on a 7-2 football team. As Carmody would say that is not a bad thing.

First, Alex Olah, a 7-1, 275 pound center enters as an instant impact freshman.  We also landed the tallest player in NU history, 7-2 Chier Ajou, also an incoming freshman straight out of prep school at St. Thomas More.  Ajou is a bit more raw than Olah, but obviously commands a presence. Carmody has been raving about 6-6 swingman Sanjay Lumpkin in the typical Carmody self-deprecating way. Carmody claimed he’s confident he could play him instantly and he wouldn’t get lost out there, which is Bill’s way of saying he’s an instant impact guy in the rotation. Finally, we have 6-7 forward Kale Abrahmason, who fits the NU prototype of a forward sized guy who can drain it from outside.  That’s just the incoming freshmen.

The core of the team you already know. Drew Crawford, who Carmody is pushing to takeover the team now that he is a senior (averaged 16.1 ppg), is the anchor of our team. We all know how he can score in huge bunches and play with an athleticism that is rare for our Wildcat teams. Reggie Hearn, a defensive specialist and my favorite guy to watch, has gone from walk-on to starter and he is a key guy to man the top of our defensive zone. Alex Marcotullio, the spotty 3-point marksman and all around Mr. Feisty Guy, is back as a senior as well. Of course, Dave Sobolewski returns after logging incredible minutes and playing admirably for a freshman running the point in the B1G.  Tre Demps, the classmate of Sobo who sat out the entire season due to a shoulder injury last year, is back, healthy and gunning for Sobo’s job. Demps has received high praise from NU insiders and is definitely going to be getting a ton of playingtime and may split minutes with Sobo, but also play the two or even the three guard from time to time. Down low, Mike Turner finally will see the floor after sitting last season and I’m really excited to see this guy play as he was not highly coveted out of high school, but has really impressed Carmody with his play above the rim. Turner is a slight build guy, but at 6-8, again adds some length out there for us. Most fans are really excited to see TCU transfer Nikola Cerina, a 6-9 bruiser, play. Cerina was at NU last year but sat out the season due to transfer rules, but is very familiar with the Carmody system and each of the players.

Then, there is Jared Swopshire, the Louisville grad who was on the Cardinals Final Four roster, but after seeing his minutes decline each year, he sought a place where he could be an instant impact guy. Thanks to the one-year-wonder “rule” of graduated player with eligibility, Swopshire gets to play right away. I’m thrilled with this experience influx, again, with his 6-8 size, but moreso from a potential “this is what it takes” winning culture approach.

Obviously there is a Gary Barnettism  here – belief without evidence – but at one point late last season I was staring at the future roster in panicsville. I’m simply not going to go in to the “accepting mediocrity” comments thread that inevitably happens and which I in part likely stir. I’m going to just try and be positive and enjoy what I can.  The coaching staff did something I didn’t think was possible between seasons and I for one am hopeful that perhaps THIS is the year. Or at least that keeps me going.

 

Perhaps it is a Chicago fan conditioning thing, that despite frustrations or even disagreements about strategy, personnel management or most specifically, our play designs on final possessions, I’m back and “all in” on the Drew Crawford-led team.

There were many quotes from B1G coaching colleagues that were directly aimed at the type of criticism I propogated last season. Guys like Tom Izzo claimed it was completely unwarranted and Fran McCaffery, Iowa’s head coach, thought it was crazy talk. I read between the lines on their respective support of Carmody to read “you have no freakin’ clue how hard it is to win in Evanston with the facilities, the academic standards etc….”

They’re probably right. I just expect more. Four straight NIT appearances are indeed outstanding in the big picture context of Northwestern basketball history (having only three NIT appearances in the history of the school prior to Carmody’s arrival).  I know Jim Phillips expects more. I know Bill Carmody expects more. Collectively, we need to lose the “relative to Northwestern’s dismal basketball history” when benchmarking our program.

The single biggest in-game discrepancy we have on the stat sheet is rebounding. We’ve been horrible under Carmody in this all-important category.  As all of those of you who played or coached know, rebounding is about position and technique, not size.  Yet, there was no denying our lack of size really made us akin to a run-only football team.  We live and die with outside shooting and creating match-ups with back-door cuts.

We now have size. Tons of it. Carmody’s assistants, specifically Tavaras Hardy, did a masterful job of bringing in a combination of a solid recruiting class and transfers to give us the size and bulk in the post we haven’t really ever had. The little buzz there was about hoops last week was about the nine new players we’ll have and how we go 10 deep.  This includes the fact that the annual snakebitten personnel issues continued when JerShon Cobb was suspended for an entire season for violation of team rules.

By now you likely can recite all the new players, their size and their style of play. First, the incoming freshmen.

  • MKEB1GCat

    Idk if it’s just me but that last sentence feels weird. Seems like you wrote the second half of the post followed by the intro of the players and then decided to switch them. Just wanted to mention it in case you meant to have it the other way around.

  • JM

    I’m full of both excitement and dread for the upcoming season. Seems like we are well positioned to have our NCAA hopes once again come down to 2-3 close games. I’m trying to convince myself this team is more likely to win those close games than its predecessors. Depth, size and a go-to guy capable of creating his own shot are some reasons for hope, I guess.

  • das420

    You forgot about Aaron Liberman, the so-called “Jewish Dwight Howard”.

  • MossReport

    This is going to be a very interesting season since the team has the best potential to play 10 deep ever. Hopefully that depth will help our scorers (whomever they turn out to be other then Crawford) to stay fresh near the end of games. Also this team has substantially less hype then going into last season, so at least there is not much pressure on this team from outside of the university. The ESPN preview ranks us 11th in the Big Ten and somewhere over 100. Our newly found size should help with rebounding but then you never know considering the size of the some of the players who just graduated. I hope that Swopshire can teach our players what winning is all about and help them believe in themselves late in games. Either way, I am sure we will be in store for another roller coaster ride of season (just like football), and I can’t wait. GO CATS!

  • Tom

    without Jershonn Cobb we have no chance at making the Big Dance. None. This season will be a near carbon-copy of the past 3 years; Good enough to beat the bad Big-10 teams consistently but can’t compete with OSU, MSU, UI, IU and Michigan. The only way this team even reaches last years level (as in, 1 or 2 big late-Feb. wins away from the dance) is if Swopshire shines and the team stays healthy. Hopefully Carmody has come up with a better final-seconds play than “Have Crawford dribble at the hoop recklessly and let him take a bad, contested, running jump-shot in the lane”

    • Heylucas

      I’d be interested to hear in more detail the source of your pessimism for this team. Or perhaps I should say, reasons why we shouldn’t be optimistic. Aren’t there some positive developments as far as size and depth?

    • Db

      For me the upside is a bunch of guys that presumably are better players than we have had historically. Solid chess pieces that a good basketball guy/ coach can move around and take advantage of.

      The downside is that other than Crawford we have no one that has ever done anything material at the college level, other than the impressive minutes sobo played last year. No one has a history of scoring at the d1 level, etc. That backdrop isn’t great heading into a loaded league with a team that needs several go to players to close out games.

      Like ltp, I’m all in, and will be glass half full until this ridiculous league strength beats the life out of me.

  • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

    I’m excited to see the new talent, and agree this may be “the group”, but I have a hard time seeing how this will be “the year”. Based on the article and comments, we’re expecting what, 60% of minutes to come from newcomers? Kentucky may be able to reload and win again, but it will take NU some time. And besides, we have the dreaded “Drew Crawford-led” factor. One of the more talented players we’ve had in years is also possibly the least clutch player I’ve ever seen. I supported Carmody’s return, still do, and am keenly interested to see this group perform, but what on earth would give us expectation that this would be the year? Now 2013-14, on the other hand….

    • rararawrgocats

      Not sure I understand the Crawford not being clutch thing. Is it because he got blocked by Leonard with time expiring last year? Was he really that consistently bad? The ‘cats haven’t been great at the end of the game recently, but I don’t see how it’s fair to pin the blame on Crawford.

      Additionally, while I tend to be someone who says “next year we’ll be even better,” I don’t think I’d sign on for that just yet. We haven’t seen enough of any players who will be around after this season (except maybe Sobolewski, and Cobb as kind of a wildcard) to know we can make up for the loss of our best player (Crawford), two key role players (Marcotullio and Hearn), and a likely new starter (Swopshire). Not to say we’ll go downhill in 2013-2014, as there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic – I just don’t see any reason to look past the upcoming season at this point.

      • Db

        I think it’s less about what Crawford has failed at vs that he hasn’t done anything. Despite being the only guy on the team that could get his own shot, he never took the ball at the end other than the Illinois game you referenced. A couple of times he even was on the bench with some minor injury that didn’t prevent him from jumping up and down on the bench. I kind of agree with the comment. Love the guy’s game and don’t understand why he isn’t a draft lock, but he really needs to own the end of games this year or we will have trouble.

        • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

          Db gets it. Crawford also traveled in last possession in Ann Arbor, and had other late-game horrible plays, but his disappearing acts are equally maddening. The one for the time capsule was his zero-point, zero-RB performance at home against Wisconsin in that season’s tournament-necessary game. And there have been many others. Look, Crawford is an immense talent and I’ll root for him again, but I see no evidence in last 3 years that he can lead a successful team, particularly in a loaded B10. We face the opposite dynamic in basketball around the league that we’re seeing in FB. My comment about 2013-14 was based on a year of maturation for what looks like a bellwether recruiting class, the return of a healthy Jershon Cobb, and a chance for the conference to come back to earth a bit.

          • rararawrgocats

            I’m just not ready to write Crawford off as someone who can’t carry a team. He’s had his ups and downs, but he’s without a doubt steadily improved over his three years, developing into a guy who averaged 16 points while shooting 48% last year. We’ll see how things go in end-of-game situations this year. We’ll have a lot more depth on the roster this season, which certainly should help. Given a team that has four seniors who will contribute, and more size than ever, I’m not ready to be pessimistic.

            As for 2013-2014, I completely understand the optimism there. Assuming Cobb comes back healthy and focused and our other players progress, we should be a good team then. I just think this year’s team could be equally good, if not better.

  • hudhaifa3

    Since we are talking hoops…..I will be at the Michigan State/UConn game at Ramstein Air Base Germany next Friday night. I am going to do my best to get the “N” flag on TV. Sportscenter or the actual game. GO CATS!!!

  • bandcat

    Hope Alex and Nikola have a better vertical than Luka! Touch around glass would be nice also!

  • SocalScott

    NU and Indiana end in 1-1 draw in men’s soccer. NU still in Big Ten title chase.

  • Noah

    Can we interview Swopshire and see how the coaching compares? Let him weigh in on the Carmody issue. His first-hand experience on a final 4 team and with NU would be very interesting….