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Key Losses: Michael Thompson
Key Returning Player: John Shurna, Drew Crawford, Luka Mirkovic, Jershon Cobb, Alex Marcotullio and Davide Curletti
Key Newcomers: Tre Demps, David Sobolewski and Mike Turner
It's seems like every year, the question is, "Will this be the year that NU finally makes the tournament?"
Recently, Northwestern has had the talent to finally make that breakthrough, but something goes awry and the team ends up in the NIT.
This year is very similar. The Cats may have more raw talent than any other team they've had in recent history, but they still don't have much margin for error if they want to make the dance.
While NU has four starters returning, its one loss is a massive one. Michael Thompson was the team leader and best player for long stretches, especially when John Shurna was struggling with his high ankle sprain. He rarely left the court and was the go-to guy in the clutch. He kept the offense running smoothly and was a threat from well beyond the three-point line.
NU has an obvious replacement as its top scoring option with Shurna. Technically, he lead the team in scoring—even at less than 100 percent for most of conference play. When he's healthy, he's an extremely tough matchup. He is lethal from the behind the arc, can finish inside and is athletic and skilled enough to create his own shot.
They might have a solid second scorer as well with Drew Crawford. He is a better athlete than NU typically gets, and he averaged 12 points per game last year, but he has been very inconsistent. He can finish when he attacks the basket, but sometimes he settles for jumpers too easily. If he gets more aggressive, he could make a major impact.
Alex Marcotullio and Jershon Cobb will be tasked with keeping the offense running smoothly.
Marcotullio was the first man off the bench last year and slid into the starting lineup when Cobb was out. He has good size and made a number of hustle plays late last year. His scoring is highly dependent on whether his jumpers are falling or not. If he can round out his offensive game a bit, he could be a solid point guard.
Though he's generally considered a shooting guard, Cobb might take over some ball-handling duties as well. This is especially true in the Princeton offense, where the ball is moving constantly. Like most freshmen, Cobb made some good plays but also took some questionable shots and struggled with consistency. He also had some nagging issues with his hip after a collision in the St. John's game, which led to off-season surgery.
The team's backups on the perimeter should be freshmen David Sobolewski and Tre Demps. Obviously, it's hard to say how effective they will be at this point.
NU's two main post players return, though it's still not exactly a strength. Luka Mirkovic is serviceable, but he isn't really athletic or skilled enough to be a real difference maker. His size is an asset, but there are games where he struggles significantly.
The same can be said about Davide Curletti. Though he's a bit more athletic, he doesn't have much of a scoring touch and can be prone to mistakes.
There isn't much depth beyond those two inside. The only other big man on the roster is freshman Mike Turner, who probably doesn't have the bulk to bang bodies inside.
As usual, the main questions with Northwestern come down to defense. The team struggled pretty much across the board defensively last year, but especially in two-point field goal percentage allowed (52.6 percent, 324th in the country). Even assuming their offense is efficient and productive, they have to cut back on the number of easy shots around the rim.
If NU's offense reaches its potential and the team improves even a little on defense, it could get that elusive tournament bid.
Northwestern needs to avoid the injury issues it's had the last few seasons and finish better in games against quality competition.