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Almost Glory: the 2009-2012 Northwestern Wildcats

The John Shurna Show couldn’t quite get there.

Minnesota Golden Gophers v Northwestern Wildcats Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

By now, you probably know that the Northwestern Wildcats have yet to make the NCAA Tournament in the 78 year history of the competition. Heck, they’ve only made the NIT seven times total. And while Chris Collins looks to maybe have them on the upswing (is this the Year?), the program hasn’t seen much glory over various coaches’ tenures.

So rather than focus on one individual year, we’re going to spotlight the four year campaign of the school’s all time leading scorer.

Coach: Bill Carmody

Records:

  • 2009: 17-14 (8-10 in the Big Ten)
  • 2010: 20-14 (7-11 in the Big Ten)
  • 2011: 20-14 (7-11 in the Big Ten)
  • 2012: 19-14 (8-10 in the Big Ten)

Key Players/Stats:

  • F John Shurna, 130 Games, 15.7 PPG, 5.0 REB, 2.3 AST, 40% 3PT
  • G Michael Thompson, 129 G, 13.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 4.1 APG

He didn’t look like much: uncool haircut, goofy smile, an awkward chest-out shot. But get John Shura on the court and that dude could hoop. Strong moves to the basket, creative shot-making abilities, and that weird jumper went in forty percent of the time from long range.

Check this highlight reel:

(Added bonus: because most of NU’s games were on BTN, we have the pleasure of a few Gus Johnson gus-gasms here.)

In the four years that John Shurna played for Northwestern, over which time he broke the all-time scoring record, the Wildcats accomplished things they hadn’t done since the late 60s: four straight winning seasons and a ranking in the Top 25 after a 10-1 start to the ’09-’10 season. A ranking they promptly relinquished the following week.

Not to be overlooked was his running mate, Michael “Juice” Thompson, whose bursts of speed and ability to slice through the lane kept defenders on their toes. In both years these two ran the offense, they combined to average 32 points a contest. The only problem: the whole team behind them averaged 33 and 35 points a night total.

It's a shame that the Cats couldn't make the tournament with Shurna and Thompson leading the team. They would’ve been the exact one-two punch you want to watch on the big stage, getting hot from deep, hitting off-balance and-1s, high-fiving while an underdog-loving crowd got behind them.

Alas, they could never put it all together. I lived in Chicago during this era, and I remember the end-of-season optimism from NU graduate friends. If they could just win one more game they would have made it.

2012 was especially brutal. It was Shurna’s final season, wherein he averaged 20 points a game on 44% shooting from downtown. He finished first in the conference in 3-point shooting, minutes per game, points, and effective field goal percentage.

They entered the tournament 18-12, seven of those losses to ranked teams, two more by two points or less, and a second-team All-American in Shurna. All they had to do, pundits claimed, was beat #10-seeded Minnesota in the first game of the Big Ten tournament and they were in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.

They couldn’t do it. Shurna went for 21, including five 3’s, and they pushed the game to overtime. But the Hollins duo combined for 37 points for the Gophers, who were making their own ill-fated push to the tournament.

Shurna went un-drafted, but now plays in the finest European league, as a member of Valencia Basket.

Northwestern is slowly crawling back. Junior Bryant McIntosh ranked #13 on the BTPowerhouse Top 25 and will look to lead the Wildcats to something that eluded them for close to a hundred years: a chance to dance.