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Northwestern off to a solid start

Northwestern beat Seton Hall Sunday night to win the Charleston Classic, and bring their record to 4-0. The season is still young, but there is reason to be optimistic in Evanston. After a home win over lowly Texas - Pan American, the Wildcats took care of LSU and Tulsa before reaching the finals. What have we learned about NU in their first few games?

They have looked good so far, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
It is still very early in the season. Forgive us for not writing the "This could be their year to finally make the tournament" posts until conference play is underway. The Cats have looked pretty good against some respectable teams, but they have done this before. Last year NU won their first eight games, with the highlights being wins over Creighton and Georgia Tech. They couldn't sustain that momentum when conference play started and the season ended in the NIT.

That being said, Northwestern's performance in the CC was pretty impressive. The teams they beat in the tournament aren't likely to crack the Top 25 anytime soon, but winning at a neutral site against teams from mostly-solid conferences is nothing to sneeze at. It is a good start, but I don't think there are too many NU fans who are taking an NCAA berth for granted after a few games.

John Shurna is still really good.
His 37 points against LSU were a career high and his overall ppg sits at 21.5. If he can keep hitting over 85% of his free throws, then he is going to be very hard to defend. Last season he was somewhat inconsistent in conference play, but he had Juice Thompson to help carry the scoring load. Thomspon is gone, so it is imperative that Shurna stay healthy and keep his off games to a minimum.

Drew Crawford has stepped up.
Crawford has shown some potential in his Northwestern career, but fans have been looking for more out of him since his freshman season. So far this season, Crawford has delivered on that potential. Big Ten defenses will be a lot better than what he has faced so far, but his shooting over the first four games has been solid. I'm not sure if he can keep up his 50% clip from behind the arc, but if he can keep hitting 40% of them teams will have to respect his outside shot. If Crawford can continue to average around twenty points a game, then it will take some pressure off of Shurna. The scoring void left by Thompson's departure has been filled so far by Crawford. It remains to be seen if he can keep it up, but it looks promising at this point.

Northwestern's guards seem fine, but their centers have some issues.
Alex Marcotullio figured to get the lion's share of Thompson's playing time this year, but Freshman Dave Sobolewski has seen the most time at PG. Sobolewski has a solid 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio over the first four games, but his FG% leaves something to be desired. Marcotullio has hit 4 of 9 three-pointers, but Carmody likes the way Sobolewski runs the offense. JerShon Cobb is coming off an injury, and hasn't seen a lot of playing time so far.

Luka Mirkovic is sporting a shaved head this season, but it hasn't really helped his rebounding. Mirkovic is only averaging 2.25 rpg, and his backup Davide Curletti hasn't exactly been Moses Malone either. Mirkovic did show some offense in the Seton Hall game, where he managed twelve points on nine shots. It would really help NU if Mirkovic was more of a presence on the boards and defense.

Northwestern still has three potentially tough non-conference games.
The Cats play at Georgia Tech (who have a loss to LSU) next week as part of the Challenge, and that should at least give them a true road environment to play in. A home game against Baylor on Dec. 4 will be a major challenge, and a Dec. 22 game at Creighton (who demolished Iowa this past weekend) will be their toughest road game before conference play starts. Seeing how NU handles these games will give us a better idea if this is finally Northwestern's year.