The Northwestern Wildcats have the dancing ability of Elaine from Seinfeld. The main difference between the two: At least Elaine has actually danced before. Northwestern has still never played in the NCAA Tournament, although they have flirted with being a bubble team the past three seasons. That should once again be the case in 2011-2012.
After testing the NBA Draft waters this summer, John Shurna made the right decision to return to Evanston for his senior season. Shurna has been the Wildcats' leading scorer the past two years and lit it up from deep last season, connecting on 43.4% of his triple tries. He will need to up his scoring even more this season since Northwestern loses second leading scorer, Juice Thompson.
Luka Mirkovic (6-11) will retain his spot as the starting center and is the only true big man on the roster. Despite his size, he is not much of a force in the paint but can step out and knock down jump shots. There is not a whole lot of depth up front behind Shurna and Mirkovic. David Curletti was a key reserve last season and can stretch defenses with his outside shooting. Freshman Mike Turner will try to work his way into the rotation.
Former Big Ten Freshman of the Year and starting small forward Drew Crawford is looking to improve upon a year in which he struggled shooting the ball. He will have to up his game to help replace Thompson's offensive production. JerShon Cobb returns at shooting guard and brings athleticism and versatility to the floor. Seldom-used juniors Reggie Hearn and Nick Fruendt are the only other options on the wing.
Thompson was one of the more underrated point guards in the country and replacing him will fall on the shoulders of Alex Marcotullio. How he transitions into the starting role will be one of the key factors to Northwestern's success this season. Freshmen Tre Demps and David Sobolewski will compete to be the backup point guard.
Bill Carmody has built Northwestern into a mediocre basketball program. Four of their five starters are back which is a positive but there is a lack of experience on the bench. Still, there is a chance that this could be the season the Wildcats can get over the hump and earn their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Player to Watch: Drew Crawford, G/F
The only way Northwestern will even sniff an at-large berth is if Crawford emerges as a legit number two scorer. Carmody knows what he is going to get from Shurna, and Crawford is the most capable of becoming the second banana.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17 vs. LSU (Charleston Classic)
11/18 vs. Tulsa/Western Kentucky (Charleston Classic)
11/20 vs. VCU/Seton Hall/Georgia Tech/St. Joseph's (Charleston Classic)