John Shurna has one last chance to lead Northwestern to the NCAA tournament. (Icon SMI)
By Keith Levinsky
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Last Season: 20-14 (7-11 Big Ten)
Key Losses: Michael Thompson, Mike Capocci, Jeff Ryan
Head Coach: Bill Carmody
PG: Alex Marcotullio 6-3 Jr.
SG: JerShon Cobb 6-5 So.
SF: Drew Crawford 6-5 Jr.
PF: John Shurna 6-9 Sr.
C: Luka Mirkovic 6-11 Sr.
Key Reserves: Nick Fruendt 6-5 Sr. SG, Davide Curletti 6-9 Sr. PF, Tre Demps 6-2 Fr. PG, Mike Turner 6-8 Fr. PF, David Sobolewski Fr. 6-1 PG
After over a century of Northwestern basketball, this could be the year. This could be the year that Northwestern makes its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Bill Carmody's Wildcats return four out of five starters from last year's team that made the NIT quarterfinals. The only problem for Wildcats is that one starter is Michael Thompson, one of the best players in Northwestern history. Thompson finished his career first in assists, minutes played, games played and games started, second in 3-point field goals and third in points on Northwestern's all-time lists.
Yes, Thompson is gone, but Wildcat fans can look forward to the return of one of the top players in the country, John Shurna, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft in May. Shurna decided to return for his senior season after he was projected to be a late second round pick. With a solid season, Shurna could pass Thompson and become the number-one scorer in Northwestern history. The 6-foot-9 senior led the Wildcats with 16.6 points per game last season and was second on the team with 4.9 rebounds per game.
Shurna was on the Naismith Award Watch List and appeared to be a top contender for the award at the start of the season, scoring over 20 points in nine of Northwestern's first 10 games. An ankle sprain and a concussion in the middle of the season, however, slowed his production. From January 23 to the end of the season, he only scored over 20 points three times.
Shurna's play at the end of last season and this offseason, though, have been very hopeful indicators for the Wildcats. He posted at least 20 points in three out of Northwestern's final four games. According to ESPNChicago.com, Shurna also looked "completely healthy" at the Sonny Parker Summer League on July 15.
Outside of Shurna, Northwestern will start four other players who can score in double digits on any given night. Playing in the Princeton offense, the Wildcats are a 3-point shooting squad as all the starters, even the center, can knock down the deep ball. Joining Shurna at forward will be Drew Crawford, who was the team's third best scorer last season, averaging 12.1 points per game. The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year will be one of the team's top rebounders as he was third on the squad with 4.7 boards per game last year. Northwestern's best rebounder, though, is center Luka Mirkovic, who grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game and dropped in 7.4 points per game last season.
Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb will start in the backcourt for the Wildcats. Towards the end of last season, Marcotullio became a consistent starter and scorer and Northwestern fans have to be excited to see what he contributes this season. After coming off the bench and erupting for a career-high of 18 points in a comeback win over Minnesota, Marcotullio never looked back. He started each of Northwestern's final five games, saw increased playing time, and scored at least 12 points in five of the final six games of the season.
After getting sidelined by a hip injury, Cobb received less playing time towards the end of last season. The highly-touted sophomore guard was a viable scoring threat with 7.4 points per game last season and should be this season as well.
With the departure of Thompson, Northwestern does lack a returning true point guard. Cobb and Marcotullio will each get their shot at the position, but freshmen Tre Demps and David Sobolewski will also compete for the job. Demps appears to be the best candidate for the job as ESPN.com says that he is a "cerebral passer" who possesses a "high basketball IQ." Nick Fruendt should also see time in a backcourt that is full of depth. Davide Curletti and Mike Turner should gain some minutes in the post. According to ESPN.com, Turner is a solid athlete with a "great upside."
John Shurna made it clear to the Chicago Tribune what is at stake this season. "It's tournament or bust," he said. "If we don't make it, I'll feel like my career here would be a failure." We will know in March if Shurna's potentially record-breaking career has been a success or a "failure."