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2011-12 Northwestern Preview

John Shurna - Dunk Machine
John Shurna - Dunk Machine

Coach Bill Carmody has led Northwestern to the postseason the last three years, which is the first such streak in their history. There are different levels of postseason though, and the Wildcat faithful are looking for something more than an NIT bid this year. Northwestern has the distinction of being the only school from a major conference that has never been to the dance. Sippin' on Purple had a few posts last year about this if you're interested in seeing the list.

Northwestern had a losing record in conference play last year, but a couple of very close losses against powerhouse Ohio State showed that this team could hang with anyone. If the Cats are going to make some noise this year, it will be without last year's point guard and floor leader Juice Thompson. Thompson averaged over 37 minutes and 16 points per game and his shoes will be hard to fill.

Junior Alex Marcotullio is the most likely candidate to replace Thompson. Marcotullio averaged a little over six points and two assists per game last season. He spent the summer playing in Europe for the British U-20 team, in which he led the team in rebounding and scored about 16 a game. He might not be a pure point guard, but his ability to score should help to make up the points that were lost when Juice graduated.

JerShon Cobb will also see some time at point guard. Cobb had some injuries last year that limited his effectiveness, but he was a solid contributor when healthy. Fellow Junior Drew Crawford averaged 12 ppg last year, but he needs to improve his accuracy to become a difference maker.

Incoming freshmen Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewski will also get a chance to play at both guard spots. Demps was a 3-star recruit who was also getting interest from Colorado and Minnesota. He injured his shoulder in August, which may hamper his ability to contribute immediately. Sobolewski was selected to the All-Area team, averaging around 16 points per game.

Forward John Shurna is without a doubt the best player on this team. The offense should flow through him and we will see a lot of his odd-looking jumpers and backdoor dunks in Northwestern highlights this year. Shurna has been a four-year starter and currently sits 524 points behind the school's all-time leading scorer Bill McKinney. He is on the John Wooden award watch list and was named to the Sporting News Preseason All-American second team. If Shurna can stay healthy, this team is a threat in any game.

The big men for Northwestern are both seniors. Luka Mirkovic sees the most minutes in the post, and the 6-foot-11 center had the highest FG% on the team last year. Like many European big men, he can also step back and hit a three, which he will follow by giving the Serbian three sign as he lumbers down the court. Davide Curletti has been more of a role player throughout his career. If Curletti can play some solid minutes off the bench, he can provide some much needed depth in the frontcourt.

John Shurna is a great player, and it would be a shame if goes his whole career without making it to the NCAA tournament. This is his last shot at it, and Northwestern fans know that this season will be their best chance in a while to earn a spot in the field of 68.