‘Cats fans everywhere have to face the sad truth that — barring a miraculous run in the Big Ten Tournament — when the field of 65 of the NCAA tournament is announced, Northwestern will not be among those dancing.
However when one season falls short, you immediately look to next season, as any Cubs fan can attest. And next season looks very bright. In fact, provided Kevin Coble doesn’t reinjure his foot and star recruit Jershon Cobb doesn’t decide to ditch college for a year of professional ball in Europe, the ‘Cats will, for the first time in school history, reach the NCAA tournament.
That’s right, go ahead and pencil, no wait, pen Northwestern in to your 2011 NCAA tournament bracket because if this year’s success is any indication of the pieces the Wildcats have, that talent combined with the new talent introduced for next season makes Northwestern a tournament team.
Consider who Northwestern returns: All starters, except for Jeremy Nash, are back. While Nash hit some very clutch shots this year, he remains very replaceable. John Shurna, the fourth leading scorer in the conference, is back. Michael “Juice” Thompson, the floor general of the ‘Cats, is back. Luka Mirkovic, who, after a slow start has averaged 9.2 points per game and 6.6 rebounds over his last 14 games, is back. And Drew Crawford, who is a leading candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is back.
Those four already formed the core of a team that nearly reached the Big Dance. Add to them Coble, the forward who should have been the star of this year’s tournament team, if not for a preseason foot injury. Coble already fills out one of the best starting five Northwestern will have ever seen.
Then, on top of all this talent, comes one of the best recruits Northwestern has ever had: Cobb. Cobb is the only four-star recruit Northwestern has gotten since Rivals.com began ranking recruits, and he is ranked 90th among all players in the Class of 2010 by Rivals.
On past Northwestern teams, Cobb might have been a player to immediately build a team around. On next year’s team, he’ll likely be the “Sixth Man.” In a rare occurrence, not only do the ‘Cats have talent, but they also have depth with talent.
Adding to that depth will be players like Alex Marcotullio, who despite averaging less than 14 minutes a game has chipped in just under five points and one steal per game. Give the freshman another off season to develop, and he could easily turn into a significant bench contributor.
So no, sadly, Northwestern will not be dancing this year, and Wildcat fans will have to endure another 12 months of “only school in a major conference to never reach the NCAA tournament” comments. But relish those comments this time, because if everything goes as it should, people won’t be making them after next March.