Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Northwestern Can't Catch A Break

Northwestern looked primed in 2009-10 to finally make their first ever NCAA Tournament. And then Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan went down with season-ending injuries and the team came up just a bit short. But with Coble granted a redshirt and all of their key parts returning, it seemed like the Tournament would finally come calling in 2010-11. In my most recent BP68 I gave them a 10 seed, safely into the field.

But there's a reason why Northwestern has spent so many years on the bubble without getting into the Tournament - they just can't catch a break. And they got another awful break with Kevin Coble choosing to decline that redshirt, and to just graduate. Some of the more web-traffic motivated bloggers are going out and calling Coble a quitter, but I'm not going to go there. There are a lot of reasons why he might want to move on with his life, including the fact that we have no good evidence that his injury completely healed, and he might have been in for a year of pain and missed time.

But either way, the loss is a blow for Northwestern. They lack the type of bluechip talent that teams like Michigan State and Ohio State have, and they rely on players like Coble who can score points in bunches. John Shurna has that type of game, but he would have been even more effective if teams had to guard him and Coble at the same time. Michael Thompson is developing into a pretty good offensive creator, and Northwestern will look to Drew Crawford to really step up into a court leadership position after a very strong freshman season.

But this news definitely drops Northwestern to the bubble, which made me think about an interesting fact: as strong as everybody expects the Big Ten to be next season, the conference could potentially end up with only five NCAA Tournament teams (Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin). My full 2010-11 Big Ten preview is here, but in short I have to put Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana on the bubble, and at the moment I'd leave all three out of the field. Penn State and Michigan are long shot NCAA Tournament teams, while Iowa is... Iowa. The conference will still be very strong, and is as likely as any conference to be the best in the country, but it has the potential to be very top heavy.

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