Last week, Northwestern suspended JerShon Cobb for the 2012-13 season for undisclosed violations of team rules. As to exactly what rules were violated here, well, that's none of my business, so I'll leave the speculation to others. I can, however, reflect on his time at Northwestern and speculate on what his absence will mean for Northwestern basketball going forward.
If Cobb has indeed played his last game in an NU uniform (and given this program's history of off-the-court problems, I certainly wouldn't bet against it), his career in Evanston will go down as one of the most disappointing in recent memory. Cobb was a four star recruit out of Decatur, Georgia when he committed to NU in 2009, and most fans expected him to make an immediate impact and quickly become one of the team's best players. Unfortunately, a series of injuries and an inability to fit into Bill Carmody's offensive system have meant Cobb has been unable to meet the lofty expectations. Still, he showed flashes of brilliance of offense, particularly at the end of last season, and his defensive prowess in particular would have made a major impact for Northwestern this coming year.
Cobb averaged just over seven points a game in each of his first two seasons in Evanston, and impressed with his ability to create his own shot off the dribble, displaying perhaps the most effective stepback jumper of anyone on the roster. The problem for Cobb was that he didn't make that stepback jumper enough; other than a three game outburst at the end of last year where he scored 13, 24 and 19 points on 22 for 33 field goal shooting, he hit just 46% of his twos and 30% of his threes over his two year career.
A major reason for Cobb's low shooting percentages was his shot selection. Perhaps in part because of the aforementioned injuries, Cobb did not have the strength or explosiveness to blow by defenders and get easy shots at the rim, so many of his two point shots were contested 10 to 15 footers with a hand in his face. Bill Carmody's offensive system is predicated on creating lay-ups and open three pointers, because those two shots are the most efficient in basketball, so Cobb's game was not a good fit. In fact, according to KenPom.com, Cobb's offensive rating was the lowest of any Northwestern's player in each of his two seasons with the team. While Cobb's shooting percentages went up a bit as a sophomore, his turnover rate nearly doubled, contributing to a poor offensive rating of 89.2 (second worst on the team was Luka Mirkovic at 99.6).
Cobb's offense can certainly be replaced; it's his defense that will really be missed. Cobb's long arms, athleticism, and nose for the ball made him Northwestern's best defensive player last season, and assuming full health in 2012-13, he would have been even better. Cobb recorded 2 or more steals in 8 of the 21 games he played, including a season high 5 in a win over Minnesota, and he stole the ball on 4.3% of opponent's possessions; had he played enough minutes to qualify, that steal rate would have put him in the top 20 nationally and second in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State's defensive wizard Aaron Craft. At the top of the 1-3-1 zone or guarding the opponent's best perimeter scorer in man to man, Cobb could have made a major impact on that end of the floor.
While this year's Northwestern team at least has a full competent of scholarship players, there doesn't appear to be anyone with Cobb's defensive skill set. Freshman Sanjay Lumpkin is the only guy who has much potential as a perimeter defender and it's unclear how much of an impact he'll have as a freshman. Forced to guess, I'd say Cobb's minutes are taken by a rotation of Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn, with Lumpkin possibly being involved depending on his development. Not too exciting a proposition defensively.
Hopefully for Cobb, he straightens out whatever issues are currently plaguing him and goes on to have a successful collegiate career, be it at Northwestern or anywhere else he might end up. I'd be pleasantly surprised if he plays another game for Northwestern, but you never know: it ain't over til that big girl from Decatur sing.
OutKast - Decatur Psalm (via GiancanaStory)