No question about it, we are witnessing the prime era of Northwestern basketball under the leadership of Bill Carmody.  The only problem?  The Wildcats have yet to make an NCAA tournament appearance, EVER.  It may sound like a broken record, but with the conference undergoing a youth movement at the top this veteran squad could make this season be the year they punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

 

 

2010-11 Season: 

Record: 20-14

Conference Record/Finish: 7-11 (tie 8th)

Postseason: NIT - Quarterfinals (66-69 OT loss to Washington State)

 

2011-12 Outlook: 

Head Coach: Bill Carmody - 160-177 in 11 seasons at Northwestern (252-202 in 15 seasons overall)

Returning Starters: 4

- JerShon Cobb (So., Guard); 7.4ppg, 3.0rpg, 1.5apg

- Drew Crawford (Jr,. G/F); 12.1ppg, 4.7rpg, 2.0apg

- Luka Mirkovic (Sr., Center); 7.4ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.3apg

- John Shurna (Sr., Forward); 16.6ppg, 4.9rpg, 2.6apg

Newcomers: Tre Demps - 6'2" 195lbs. (Fr., Guard); Dave Sobolewski - 6'1" 185lbs. (Fr., Guard); Mike Turner - 6'8" 205lbs. (Fr., Forward)

 

While the biggest question surrounding the program is the glaring lack of an NCAA tournament appearance, on the court there's an even bigger question mark and that's who's going to step into the role of PG vacated by Michael Thompson (16.3ppg, 4.3apg, 1.4spg)?  Head Coach Bill Carmody has brought in a pair of highly regarded recruits that will look to help fill that role by committee.  Tre Demps and Dave Soblewski will both play plenty of minutes in the backcourt rotation that Carmody likes to use.  In the exhibition game against Robert Morris both acquitted themselves rather nicely.  Demps threw in 13 points and 3 assists in his 28 minutes of action, while Sobolewski also played 23 minutes and added 15 points and 2 assits.  Those minute numbers should go down just a bit during the regular season as returning starter JerShonn Cobb sat the exhibition game out while making his way back from offseason hip surgery.

Obviously this team will need to get great play out of the frontcourt and John Shurna is the key to this team.  With any Princeton style team you'll see a decent amount of assists coming out of the frontcourt players, but Shurna and Center Luka Mirkovic are two the best I've seen at distributing the ball from those positions.  Shurna could be an even bigger part of the offense in the beginning of the year with Cobb and Crawford out of action early on.  If this team wants to get over the hump Mirkovic will be the key.  He was very inconsistent last season and needs to show he can be brilliant, like he was at times last year, on more than the occasional basis this year.  Look for him to possibly average double figures in scoring in this, his final season in Evanston.  

With a talented core back and some very interesting newcomers in the backcourt, what does the schedule hold for this season's version of Wildcats basketball?

Non-conference schedule highlights: 11/17 vs. LSU (Charleston Classic), 11/25 vs. Stony Brook, 11/29 @ Georgia Tech (B1G/ACC Challenge), 12/4 vs. Baylor, 12/22 @ Creighton

- While the overall slate isn't that challenging, it could be much more challenging depending on what goes down in the Charleston Classic.  However games against a strong and experienced Stony Brook and one of the mid-major darlings in 2011/12, Creighton, will be games to not overlook.  I really think the Baylor game will tell you a lot about this team and their chances of being a contender in the Big Ten.  If they can take a home game against one of the top teams in the country it should put the conference as a whole on notice.  If the Wildcats want to make the tournament they need to win games like the ones at Georgia Tech and Creighton to help boost their RPI and resume come Selection Sunday.

Conference schedule: This year's schedule is pretty even, but the hardest part of the B1G slate will come towards the beginning, playing @ Michigan (1/11), vs. Michigan State (1/14), @ Wisconsin (1/18), @ Minnesota (1/22), vs. Purdue (1/28)

Should Northwestern want to contend not only for an NCAA birth, but the top third of the conference they will need to find ways to win the road games against Michigan and Minnesota and possibly steal a home game against Purdue or MSU.  

In the end this has to be the best shot of an bid to March Madness the Wildcats have with a very balanced roster and deep one at that.  I see it finally happening and they are a sleeper in terms of contending for the conference in my book, but to find out where I think they'll finish you'll have to tune in later today!!