The college basketball offseason is a dark place. From April to November, teams across the country revert into a hoops hibernation, shielded from media spotlight and mostly unavailable to the public eye in the same way as, say, football players are during spring practice. Things ramp up again over the summer, and a recent NCAA rule pushing the start of official practice back two weeks ensures teams will begin formal preseason preparations even earlier this season.
Those extra two weeks are a welcome development, but the college basketball season remains a distant entity, microscopically positioned in the most forward-looking reaches of our winter sports imaginations. We’re here to help you bridge the gap with some refresher-type player capsules. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be rolling out quick little offseason snapshots of each player, how they performed last season and what you can probably expect as the Wildcats prepare for new coach Chris Collins’ first season. So if you’re ever missing basketball, if you find yourself pining for what’s to come on the hardwood this winter, you have brief individual player breakdowns to hold you over.
There is a lot of time to fill during a college hoops offseason, and convenient exercises like these can expedite the process.
Stats to know (From 2011-12; Cobb sat out 2012-13 due to an academic-related suspension)
Offensive Rating: 89.2
Effective Field Goal %: 47.2
Usage Rate: 22.6
% Shots: 22.6
Folks are quick to point to Drew Crawford’s December shoulder injury as the moment Northwestern’s season teetered off the tracks of NCAA Tournament contention. The truth is, their fate may have been sealed long before that, when Cobb was ruled out for the entire 2012-13 season in September for academic reasons. Missing games was nothing new for Cobb – he has sat out at least seven games every season since arriving in Evanston – but an entire season without basketball was a whole new level of frustration for a Wildcats team in dire need of an elite defender and valuable offensive contributor.
The upshot of Cobb’s season-long absence is what it means for his troubled history of hip and knee injuries. Various ailments have conspired to keep him off the court over the past few seasons, and little tweaks and nicks along the way never allowed for a complete recovery. Maybe Cobb got that chance by sitting out last season. He wasn’t helping the Wildcats’ 2012 campaign – I’m not sure he would have changed their fortunes all that much anyway, to be perfectly honest about it – but an uninterrupted rehabilitation period may have been exactly what Cobb needed to enter his final two seasons of eligibility feeling fresh and reinvigorated, free from the nagging injury problems of year’s past. The Wildcats will be much better off if that’s where Cobb stands as he looks ahead to 2013.
Where he fits
I feel obligated to make this disclaimer every time I write about Northwestern’s 2013 season, and that’s not because I’m trying to belabor a simple fact of new-coach uncertainty, but because it’s totally true: I don’t know what Chris Collins will do with Cobb or Drew Crawford or Dave Sobolewski or anyone else. This is his team, his philosophy, and a new set of players he will need to figure out how to deploy in the most advantageous way possible. He has his own vision for how Cobb, or anyone else, fits in the best possible Wildcats lineup, and trying to nail down those configurations without any real visual evidence to speak of is short-sighted and kind of foolish.
I have my inclinations, and with Cobb, I’m going to go ahead and assume he will be a starting member of Northwestern’s backcourt this season. Sobolewski will handle the vast share of ballhandling duties, and Cobb should line up as a typical lengthy two-guard, with enough versatility and physical capability to move over to the three or even, in a smaller four-out lineup, work as a hybrid faux-power forward. His secondary scoring gives the Wildcats’ offense depth and unpredictability, but it’s Cobb’s defense that makes his presence so pivotal – that made last season’s 142nd ranked efficiency defense so painful to watch at various points.
What to expect
When he’s healthy and eligible, two essential designations he’s had a difficult time upholding over his three years at Northwestern, JerShon Cobb does a lot of things really well for the Wildcats. The most easily recognizable is defense. Cobb is one of the few players Northwestern has – one of the few players in the Big Ten, when you really dig into each roster – that can man up, slap the floor and check the opposing team’s best player step for step. Completely shutting the Glenn Robinson III’s and Andre Hollins’ and Gary Harris’ of the world is impossible for all but maybe a few of the nation’s most astute and athletic defenders. Cobb can limit what they do best, and often times that partial resistance is all you need when games are decided in crucial minute sequences and possessions.
Lockdown defense is just a baseline. Cobb can be a huge asset on the other end of the floor, where his court vision and timely shooting gives the Wildcats another complimentary option to distract defenders away from Drew Crawford. If his hip problems are finally behind him, everything sets up for Cobb to have the best season of his career, on offense and on defense. Not only is Cobb Northwestern’s best individual defender, he’s absolutely pivotal to their scoring output on a nightly basis. His two-way contributions cannot be replicated or reformulated with any one or multi-man substitution permutation. Cobb is essential to Northwestern’s offensive chemistry and defensive strength, and that’s all there is to it.