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5 basketball questions heading into Big Ten play

Before Big Ten play starts for the 'Cats on Wednesday, let's take a look at some pressing questions for the upcoming conference schedule:

Will Juice wear down?

He's been averaging 37 minutes a night so far, and during Big Ten play he'll be on the court for 40 minutes every game unless he's in foul trouble or it's a blowout. His minutes have been pretty high the past two years, but never this high, so let's see if he can hold up through the grueling 18 game conference schedule and continue to play at his current All Big Ten level.

Can Shurna score inside against Big Ten forwards?

Shurna has been very effective scoring in the paint during the non-conference schedule, but he's yet to show he can do that against Big Ten caliber defenses, as he was primarily a 3-point specialist during last year's conference games. He was the surprise MVP of the Chicago Invitational against BCS conference teams, now let's see if he can do it despite smart Big Ten coaches trying to devise ways to stop him. He also needs to improve his 25% 3-point shooting or shoot less from the outside.

How will the freshmen hold up?

Crawford and Marcotullio have stepped in and contributed immediately, and will both be key members of the rotation for the rest of the season. Most freshman struggle to adjust to Big Ten play, especially on the road, but Northwesten can't afford these two being ineffective. Marcotullio has hit some big shots late in games but struggled with his composure in his only career road game, picking up a stupid technical foul in the second half. Like many freshman, Crawford has looked incredible in some games and been invisible in others, so he'll need to be more consistent. At least one of the two will have to be solid every game, as the NU bench is razor thin.

Can Luka Mirkovic be a servicable center?

He doesn't need to put the team on his back, but he does need to give the 'Cats productive minutes every night since Rowley is nowhere near ready and Curletti is injured and far from great when healthy. He's shown flashes at times, especially in the last few games, but NU needs him to be more consistent. Most encouragingly is his recent 3-point shooting; a center who can step out and make shots will really open up the middle for backdoor cuts and easy baskets.

Can Carmody keep this team together?

With the schedule so front-loaded, the going will be tough early in Big Ten play, and it will be up to Carmody to keep his players confident and playing hard. Given his 44-104 career Big Ten record, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned, but he does have way more talent than in past years and the conference is softer than expected, so 9+ Big Ten wins is not the pipe dream it seemed when Coble went down. Carmody's done a great job so far this season, and he'll need to keep it up for NU to finally make the dance.

We'll take a look back at these questions at the end of Big Ten play and see what the answers were.