Northwestern is on a quest: to reach their first ever NCAA tournament. They have not had much margin for error on their journey. Their roster has never been very deep, or even had enough talent or size, to be able to handle any injuries. However, the times are beginning to change for the Wildcats. The team lost leading its career scoring leader in John Shurma, but the team returns talented veterans. Swingman Drew Crawford and point man Sobolewski both look to anchor a roster that includes some new talent.
Incoming freshman Alex Olah at 7'0'' and 275 pounds is likely the most gifted big man the Wildcats have had since Evan Eschmeyer. He has good feet, passing ability and defensive skills. Head coach Bill Carmody is looking forward to what he can bring to the court. "He is just a different thing than what we've had," coach says. Nikola Cerina is a transfer from TCU. At 6'9'' 245 pounds he has the versatility to guard both bigger and smaller players and he shoots well from the perimeter. He is also an explosive player who possesses the ability to attack at any point. It make take those two and Jared Swopshire to all step up if they hope to replace the scoring last from Shurma's departure. However Carmody likes their chances. "Olah can score, Cerina can score and Swopshire can score, we haven't had that before."
All of the guards return, including Crawford who has averaged at least 10 PPG in his first 3 seasons. However Carmody expects this to be the year Crawford really steps up. He thinks the senior can score 16 to 20 points a night. "He's got to score some cheapies," Carmody said. "He also has to get to the foul line." Jershon Cobb could end up being the extra blessing they need. He has battled hip and back injuries in the past but if he can stay healthy he can produce. Late last season he showed what he truly possesses when he averaged 18.7 PPG over the final 3 game stretch. Dave Sobolewski will likely see his playing time diminish. He'll still play the majority, but last season he averaged around 35 minutes a game, and it will likely go down to around 30. Alex Marcotullio and Tre Demps will both see more playing time. Demps is coming off a redshirt year and is a potential threat right away. "He can definitely score," Carmody said. "He's got a Big Ten body, probably one of our hardest working kids." Normally I would be a little suspicious when a coach says that about an unproven player. "Hard worker" can be coach speak for "not very talented" but he isn't the only one with positive things too say.
Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune wrote over the weekend that Demps, the son of New Orleans Hornets' general manager Dell Demps, is one of the players that the Wildcats are hoping can make up the scoring void left by John Shurna, who averaged 20 points a game as a senior.
"He'll be able to put points on the board," Carmody said of Demps, talking to the newspaper. "I tell him: 'Calm down. Calm down.' He wants to do well and sometimes you actually have to not care as much. I want him to relax a little bit. Add a little guile, craft, deception (to his game)."
Demps was rated a "90" by ESPN's Recruiting Nation as a high school senior, a high mark that could be an indicator that the redshirt freshman is ready for a big season.
All in all, the Wildcats have a solid backcourt and some actual depth this season. It should be enough to help them win some games, and even make some interesting until the end, but not much more than that. The Big Ten boasts some tough teams and Northwestern likely won't be able to get out of the bottom half. But the good news is they are continuing their upward climb. They have won a total of 30 Big Ten games over the past four years. That's the best of any four year stretch since 1958.