NU basketball: roster breakdown

(editors note: remember when I said other people would post about basketball? Uh, here goes. Thanks, Loretta, for stepping up.)

First real game is Friday, so let's get right to it. Optimism around the program has reached an all-time high, with some notable bloggers all but guaranteeing an NCAA bid. I'm not quite ready to go there yet, but before we talk about the season and expectations, let's break down the roster.

Projected Starting 5

PG - Michael "Juice" Thompson- JR

Juice has been the starting point guard since the day he arrived on campus, and probably will be until he graduates. He's not only the best point guard on the team, he's the only point guard on the roster, so it's going to be very important for him to stay on the court. Last year Thompson averaged 9.9 points a game and led the team with 3.7 assists a game. His best game of last season came in the shocking road win over Michigan State, when he had a season high 20 points, highlighted by an absurd 30 footer in the 2nd half.

I think its going to be very important for Juice to step up his game on the offensive end to help replace Craig Moore, and he has the talent to do it as he led the Cats in 3 point accuracy last year at 41.7%. But for the most part he wasn't the guy taking the tough shots down the stretch in games, as he'd usually defer to Moore or Coble. This year he'll need to be more assertive on offense and look to take big shots in crunch time. He also needs to keep improving his free throw shooting. Last year he shot 70% from the line, a step up from the 64% he hit as a freshman. With no more Craig Moore to put games away at the foul line, I'd like to see Thompson get his percentage to at least 75%.

G/F - Drew Crawford - FR

Crawford comes to Evanston with a lot of hype, as he was considered one of the top prospects in Illinois. He averaged 24 points and 9 rebounds during his senior year, and chose Northwestern over Wake Forest and Oklahoma State, which is a big step up for the Cats as in past years they seemed to be competing with MAC and Horizon league teams for recruits.

I've only seen Crawford play during the exhibition win over Robert Morris, and he didn't do much in that game, so I can't really give too informed an opinion on his game, but he's advertised as a very athletic player who can both take it to the basket strong and knock down outside shots. I'd expect his role to be much like that of John Shurna last season; flashes of brilliance but very inconsistent and a quick hook from Carmody if he struggles early in games.

F - Kevin Coble - SR

Coble has been the best player on the roster since his freshman season, as he's led the Cats in scoring and rebounding the last 3 years. Last year he averaged 15 points and 5 rebounds a game and was 2nd team All-Big Ten. He's proven himself to be one of the best scorers in the Big Ten; he can score from anywhere on the court. Coble shot 39.5% from 3 point range, and frustrated opponents with an array of fadeaways, leaners, running hooks, reverse lay-ups, etc.

For Northwestern to reach the promised land of the NCAA tournament, Coble will have to be even better than he was last year. I don't think there's much question about his scoring ability, but there is a question about his defense. On his blog last season, the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine wrote that one Big Ten coach tells his players that if they're matched up one-on-one with Coble, that player should immediately take Coble to the basket. His effort has been inconsistent at times as well, as I recall several instances on the WGN radio broadcasts when Bob Hildebrand (probably the biggest Northwestern homer on the planet) questioned his hustle on defense and going after loose balls. It may seem like I'm being harsh here, but Northwestern's certainly not going to win many Big Ten games on talent alone, and if they're getting out-hustled as well they won't have much of a chance. Coble has the potential to be first team All Big Ten, and hopefully he steps up his game on both ends of the court.


F - John Shurna - SO

Shurna started just about every game last season, but only averaged 18 minutes a game. He was productive in those minutes though, averaging 7 points and 3 rebounds. His best game in Big Ten play came in the overtime loss to Michigan, when he had 17 points and 8 rebounds, but his most memorable moment came against Ohio State when he hit a game-winning three in the final seconds.

Shurna spent the summer playing for the US Junior team at the world championships, and helped lead them to a gold medal. While he didnt get a ton of minutes, the experience should help him a lot. He seemed very confident in the exhibition win vs Robert Morris, scoring 21 points on 3 for 5 3 point shooting and grabbing 7 rebounds. I'd expect Shurna to step up his game this season and be a more consistent contributor.


C - Luka Mirkovic - SO

At long last, Carmody has finally recruited a center whose game fits with his Princeton offense. Mirkovic is a good passer and has shown an ability to hit a 3 pointer from the top of the key (40% 3 point shooting, albeit in a small sample size). After contributing minimally in non-conference games, Mirkovic had his best game of the year in the loss to Illinois, with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He came down with the flu afterwards though and missed the next 2 games, but he did contribute more late in the season, most notably in the road win over Purdue when he had 6 points and 8 rebounds.

Mirkovic certainly isn't the strongest center in the Big Ten, but he's shown a knack for getting to rebounds, especially on the offensive glass. With a full year under his built and with the flu hopefully behind him, I'd expect him to step up his game and get the majority of the minutes at center. If he can knock down 3 pointers, it will really open up the lane for backdoor layups and keep some of the dangerous shot blocking centers around the Big Ten out of the paint.

Key Bench Players

G - Jeremy Nash - SR

Nash emerged out of nowhere last season to be an excellent bench player. He caused a lot of problems for opposing offenses at the top of the Cats 1-3-1 zone, and improved his offense dramatically. In his first 2 seasons he looked completely lost on offense, but last year he became a decent 3 point shooter (34%) and had some key baskets, most notably his driving lay-up down the stretch in the win over Wisconsin.

Expect Nash to play the same role this season, coming in to provide energy and defense off the bench.


G-F - Jeff Ryan - SR

During his freshman year, Ryan looked like he would emerge as a solid Big Ten player. He's certainly athletic enough, and after he scored 18 points in the Cats near upset off a top 5 Wisconsin team, it seemed he'd arrived. But Ryan has been held back by his complete inability to make any shot except a lay-up. He's a decent rebounder and defender, but when the defense doesn't have to guard you on the perimeter, it's a huge weakness in a Princeton offense. Watching the exhibition game vs Robert Morris, midway through the first half he caught a pass wide open at the 3 point line. There was no one within 20 feet of him, yet he didn't put the ball up. You'd think after a whole off-season of working on his jumper he'd be confident enough to take a wide open shot in an exhibition game, but apparently not.

Look for Ryan to play about 10 minutes a game off the bench, and hope he doesn't do much shooting.


C - Kyle Rowley - SO

Rowley came into Evanston with a lot of hype, but is clearly a work in progress and was in way over his head during Big Ten play. Despite being 7 feet tall with a wide body, he's a very poor rebounder due to his slow feet. His slow feet also caused him to be in constant foul trouble, as he'd clumsily bowl over defenders for charges when working in the low post, or rotate over too late on defense but just in time to commit the foul. For most programs he'd be a perfect candidate for a redshirt season to learn the game more and get in the weight room to shed some baby fat, but Northwestern was so thin at center he was thrown right into the fire. He also broke his foot during the off-season, and while he's almost fully recovered, that injury had to dramatically reduce his offseason work on conditioning and footwork. With his development so limited, I doubt he'll provide any more than he did last season.

His huge frame will provide some contribution on defense during the season, but I don't have high expectations. I'd like to see a lot more Mirkovic and a lot less Rowley.

F - Ivan Peljusic - JR

Peljusic looked good during non-conference play last season, with 11 points and 6 rebounds vs Butler and 10 points in the big win over Florida State, but he disappeared during Big Ten play and logged a lot of DNPCDs (did not play coach's decision). He plays with a lot of energy and can hit an open 3, but he's a bit of a liability on defense; too small to guard Big Ten centers and too slow to guard more athletic wing players.

With Rowley's status uncertain early in the season, he should get some playing time behind Mirkovic and will have a chance to earn himself more minutes.

Other Reserves

G - Alex Marcotullio - FR

Marcotullio wasn't a top recruit (chose Northwestern over Western Michigan and Oakland). The book on him is he's primarily a 3 point shooter. The question is whether he will develop into a more complete player like Craig Moore (unlikely) or a 3 point specialist off the bench like former Wildcat Evan Seacat (more likely).

There are a lot of much more athletic players ahead of Marcotullio, so I wouldn't expect him to get many minutes this season.

F - Mike Capocci - JR

Capocci got a fair amount of hype when he was recruited and played a lot of minutes early in his freshman season, but since then he's pretty much been relegated to garbage time only. Unless he's dramatically improved his offense, expect more of the same this year.

G-F - Nick Freundt - SO

The book on Freundt is that he's a very good 3 point shooter, but he didn't make one in a game last season (granted he only played 17 minutes all season). With that scouting report, there must be a reason he's not on the court, probably having a lot to do with a lack of athleticsm. He seems unlikely to get many minutes this year.

F - Davide Curletti - SO

Curletti will compete for Peljusic for playing time at center early in the year. He's a bigger body than Peljusic, but was a non factor on the glass last season and didnt take a lot of shots, just 15 attempts in 102 minutes. If he can improve his strength down low he'll manage to get some playing time.


G - Reggie Hearn - FR

I heard nothing about Hearn in recruiting and hadn't seen the name until I saw this year's roster, so I think he's a walk-on. I know nothing about him, but given that he only got 4 minutes against Robert Morris last week, it doesn't seem like Carmody thinks he will contribute. I'd be surprised if he plays any meaningful minutes.

G-F - Matt Steger - SR

Steger is a walk-on and practice player and won't get any important minutes.


I don't think there's much question that this is the most talented roster Bill Carmody has put together at Northwestern. His first NIT team is comparable, but he didn't recruit some of those guys. The only glaring hole is the lack of point guards. This team is in big trouble if Juice Thompson goes down with an injury. Managing Thompson's minutes early in the season will be very important, as he'll have to play 40 minutes a night in Big Ten play.

In terms of size and athleticism, the Cats seem to be in good shape. While they certainly won't be Michigan State on the boards, they should at least be competitive and won't get killed on the glass like in years past. Drew Crawford is a gigantic step up in athleticism from Craig Moore, although he almost certainly won't replace Moore's scoring. Shurna seems on the brink of breaking out and becoming one of the better scoring forwards in the Big Ten, and it would be huge for the Cats to have a second inside-outside threat to complement Coble.

The roster is certainly reason for optimism. Tomorrow we'll break down reasons why I'm less optimistic about an NCAA bid, namely the head coach and the schedule.