Floor & Field General Consistency

It hit me on Saturday as David Sobolewski drained his third first half three and was desperately trying to spark his teammates with his flush-faced exhortations.  The ESPNU announcer was gushing again and again about Sobo and how easy it is to see how much he puts in to every single possession.  I started thinking about how much I really admire watching Sobo play. He squeezes every ounce of talent out of his body and then, when you think he’s got nothing left, he’ll hurl himself on the floor between the bigs for another “how did he get that lay-up?” and he’ll quickly scrape himself off the floor to get back on defense.  While you can knock his free throw shooting, it’s about the only downside on a guy who has established himself as the leader of this team as only a sophomore. He’s a gamer and as a fan, I just love having him on our team.

As it became clear we were going to lose to Nebraska, my mind started projecting ahead to the future and what Sobo might be like by his senior season. However, my mental diversions became stronger, distracting me from the pangs of disappointment against a team we were favored to beat and I started thinking about the fact that, barring injury and/or a loss of the starting role to incoming superrecruit, PG Jaren Sina, Sobo has the chance to cap off an 8-year run where two point guards ran the show.  Just like Sobo, Michael “Juice” Thompson was given the rock as a true freshman and said “go get ’em”.  Thompson became the heart and soul of our team, despite the fact he played alongside the incredibly likable John Shurna, our school’s alltime leading scorer. Thompson holds the 1 and 2 spots for alltime minutes played in a season.  Sobo is in the top ten in single season minutes as well, which is insane considering he was a true frosh last year.

The thought process led me back to Jitim Young, one of the all-time favorite Wildcats for many fans, and yet another guy who manned the point for four years under Carmody (2000-2004).  I think the word “warrior” was used more in association with the Gordon Tech graduate than any other player to ever don a ‘Cats basketball jersey.  Young and Thompson both averaged about 13 ppg for their careers and both are NU alltime top ten scorers (Young 9th with 1,521 points and Juice 4th with 1,689 points).  Both had pretty big learning curves as freshmen, as did Sobo, with Juice suffering through a 1-17 conference slate in 2007-2008, before being part of three straight NIT teams and really ramping up the program.

There were a few TJ Parker and Mohamed Hachad years bridging Jitim and Juice, a nd candidly, I liked those guys as well. However, the potential of 12 years in a 15 year span of just three point guards, and gutsy, heart and soul of the team guys, is something quite remarkable.

Of course, my mind kept wandering, and with that clunker of a game on Saturday, you can understand how much time it had to wander. I thought about the point guards of the football team – quarterbacks.  Say what you want about the two-man team of Kain and Trevor, we all agree they are both winners and great on-field performers in the leadership by default position. Guys look up to them. They make things happen and as fans, they’re both very likable as well. You think about this 10-win season and start thinking back and while not as extreme as NU basketball, the consistency of top tier QB play since the start of this century has been nothing short of remarkable. Kustok, Basanez,  Bacher, Kafka, Persa and now Kain and Trevor. Consider the high level play of that group just mentioned. Whether you measure it by B1G championships (Kustok), one of only three B1G QBs to surpass 10,000 career yards (Baz set 32 NU records and at the time he graduated was #2 alltime in B1G passing history), well, you get the idea. With the exception of Basanez, who go the Young/Juice/Sobo treatment, and promptly started all four years, the rest of the QBs we’re discussing had shorter stints, usually started when the starter got injured.  When you think about our offense and how many guys have had incredible seasons, despite having maybe only one or two years to run the thing, it is truly remarkable.

If you take our QBs since 2000 (yes, I know Zak played in ’99), I’d put them against ANY program in the B1G during that time. It’d be a great spreadsheet to breakdown. By passing yards, by completion percentage, by TD/INT ratio, you name it and I think we’d be right at the top.  The only column we wouldn’t be would be total wins, but a few more seasons like last year and we’ll be up there in that category as well.  All you need to do is look at a Minnesota or Iowa or Purdue or even Wisconsin and say for the entire span, which program would you trade the entire QB lot for? I don’t think there is a program I would do that with, seriously.  You can knock us on our struggles at RB in recent years, challenges in our secondary or any other unit that has had ups and downs, but not QB.  It’s one of the most underappreciated elements of the past decade plus.  Here’s to it continuing for years to come….yes, that means you, Matt Alviti.

  • NUdone88

    Clever article! I’m repeating myself, but “posting” traffic seems to be really really down with Men’s BBall. It almost seems hapless. Sat/NEB was a crusher for Bill C. The next article of yours could be: we win the ones we shouldn’t and we lose the ones we should win in bball. Sorry, going to pile on here. I know we have a magnificant new Fieldhouse coming on the shores of Lake Michigan for most NU teams, but what is going to be done with Welsh-Ryan Arena inside??? Just sayin… Thank you.

  • PurpleHayes

    Great comment, NUdone88, about posting traffic. I posted on the Nebraska loss in part because there were only an embarrassing TEN comments when I did. I thought there would be 100 storm-the-palace comments, but apathy appears to be the order of the day, which is unfortunate. Interesting post, LTP, about our generals. One counterpoint, though: while “Warrior” aptly fits Jitim Young (it should have been his middle name), the term “Point guard” really does not. For at least two seasons he played alongside TJ Parker, and Jitim was clearly the off guard in every aspect. In fact, even during that time Jitim was clearly the general, but the off-guard position suited his considerable skills better. In recent years, I agree Thompson and Sobo have filled the on-floor coach and warrior role very well. Many have criticized Carmody’s recruiting, but maybe the Jitim/Sobo factor–that warrior quality–is something Bill needs to look for in recruits. We may not win more games, but it sure would make it more fun to watch!

    • Mark

      I don’t think it’s apathy but more a recognition that almost everything’s been said that can be said about the state of the program. People can reach different conclusions about what should be done, but those are just opinions by people, including those of us on this blog, who don’t live in the program from day to day. Ultimately the coaching staff, AD and university president have the final say about how things move forward.

  • TK98

    Great point about incredibly consistent excellence at QB (I’d lump Steve Schnur in there too, though obviously a different pre-spread style). I suppose I could look this up, but I’ll ask anyway. Who’s our QB coach? (Did Fitz keep Walk’s?) might be worth an interview/post.

  • Chasmo

    This is a minority opinion at best and probably more a fringe p.o.v. in the world of Cat basketball but here it is nonetheless: If incoming point guard recruit Jaren Sina doesn’t beat out Sobo for the job next year, it will be very disappointing.
    As LTP said, NU fans admire Sobo because while he is very short on talent he exudes spunk, grit, or whatever you want to call making the most of limited skills.
    But the fact remains that Sobo is an inconsistent shooter, a poor free throw shooter, and a poor defender against the superior athletes he faces in the Big Ten. He doesn’t have the quickness and/or size to complete his drives to the rim and the point guard getting to the rim is an essential part of the Princeton offense.
    Let’s hope Sina has superior athletic ability and superior shooting ability (we know he has superior size) so that NU can have a legit third scoring option behind Crawford and Cobb next year. Sobo is capable of having a good shooting game from time to time but he is not consistent enough to be the third option next year.

    • Dave

      I’d guess that Sobo still gets more minutes than Sina next year because of experience in the B1G and the leadership he’s earned, but Sina would definitely allow Sobo to not play the ridiculous minutes he’s getting now.

      I’d actually hope Sina and Sobo see the court at the same time a lot next year. They might not both start but I’d guess the crunch time lineup would be Sobo, Sina, Cobb, Crawford, and Olah. Those are definitely the top 5 players on the team next year. That’s an exciting yet small lineup, but not smaller than what we ran a lot of the time last year. If that is the case, who takes the point guard duties when both are on the floor?

      Starting Abrahamson or Lumpkin instead of one of the points would probably lead to better rotations in which we always have at least sobo or sina or the floor. What do you guys think next years lineup will look like?

      • PurpleBadger

        I like your lineup for next year. I would make 1 change–start Demps instead of Sina but give Sina plenty of time at both guard spots. Abe Lumpkin, & Cernia (at one point called the most athletic member of the team!) would comprise the rest of the bench. I am still all-in cheering for this year’s team, but am really anxious to see all the pieces come together next year!

  • bandcat

    Hard for anyone to take it to the hole the way our Center play was against Nebraska…Olah has got to some up with a shot…the D just sags off him to chip on the man driving the lane since he became a non scoring threat…all we need from that position is a lousey 8 to 10 pts a game…just unbelievable that Carmody cannot come up with one player or combo to do that all these years. I will put my money on Sobo to start at the point his last 2 years..He has the guts.. needs a blow once in a while.. Bet he works and overcomes his FT shortcomings. That loss to Nebraska..OMG..Force feed Olah to shoot.. just maybe he comes up to speed for NEXT YEAR! Nothing to loose for this year its OVA….

  • chartmoose

    >> Here’s to it continuing for years to come….yes, that means you, Matt Alviti.

    Let’s not forget Zack Oliver! Yes, I know that it’s hard to judge a guy based on last year’s spring game & a few snaps this year.

    But we were excited when we recruited him, and I’m really happy that Oliver & Alviti (and even Oliver & Siemian) will have a chance to battle it out.

    I may be pushing the point a bit too far, but I think there are also some walk-ons who got some snaps & some recognition from Fitz last year (PJ Carollo).

    I agree with the overall point — we have had great fortune at the QB position. I would also suggest we have had some good fortune getting great stuff from unexpected places (Zeke Markshausen in football, Reggie Hearn in basketball) — long live the unexpected stuff!