Northwestern finished 20-14 for the second straight season, bowing out in the NIT quarterfinals to the Washington State Cougars. This squad at times leaned heavily on senior point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson, but down the stretch he was ready, willing and able to lead this Wildcat team. Juice averaged 20 points over the last ten games of the season, kick-starting the Wildcats’ postseason run. A road win over Boston College and a hard-fought loss at Washington State are a testament to the type of basketball this team played at times. Coach Carmody may have found a gem in Alex Marcotullio, who consistently hit big jump shots this season. Next year will be a big year for the ‘Cats, but they will take a big step back in losing Juice.
Next season’s Big Ten play
A 7-11 record in the Big Ten left a bit to be desired, but the Wildcats twice took then-No. 1 Ohio State down to the wire. Nevertheless Northwestern found itself outmanned inside for most of the season, getting spotty production from centers Davide Curletti and Luka Mirkovic. Sweeping Indiana and Iowa is a start, but a combined 0-4 record against Penn State and Michigan State needs improvement. A year wiser to the Princeton offense, JerShon Cobb will be called upon to handle and distribute the basketball next season. John Shurna and Drew Crawford will be the featured portions of the Wildcat offense, but will rely on supporting pieces to make the offense hum.
Next season’s non-conference schedule
A win in the Holiday Festival Final against St. John’s would have surely improved Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament stock, but a relatively weak non-conference schedule didn’t prepare the Wildcats for the grueling trek that is a Big Ten regular season. A convincing win over a surprisingly bad Georgia Tech team means little in retrospect, but points to a blunt truth. Northwestern will not get the national exposure needed to be considered for the tournament unless they schedule more difficult opponents. We’re tired of cupcakes, bring on some main courses. Coach Carmody: Don’t be afraid to accept an invitation to Gonzaga or Utah State, it’d be exactly what each program is looking for.
Northwestern’s success hinges on a number of factors, but the only one in their control is the maturation of Cobb, Crawford and Shurna. Nevertheless, some seniors are on the way out and that means we probably will see a different finish in next year’s Big Ten. Northwestern’s focus though is on replacing Juice’s presence as a leader, ball handler and late-game scorer. Leading recruit Tre Demps will undoubtedly be brought into the mix, but the team’s success will hinge on four out of five returning starters. This year’s postseason experience could prove helpful come Big Ten play next year, but only time will tell how big an impact it will have.