With the Big Ten flaunting more depth in men’s basketball this season, it’s imperative for Northwestern’s team to have a great season within the conference. The Wildcats finished 8-10 in Big Ten play last season which ultimately sealed their NIT fate.
Reaching the NIT used to be looked at as an accomplishment for the men’s team in Evanston, but no longer will missing the NCAA tournament be acceptable, nor it should be. This season, even without JerShonn Cobb, presents Northwestern with yet another opportunity to reach a postseason tournament other than the NIT.
The Wildcats not only have a veteran team this season with seniors Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio, but they have a returning Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and Tre Demps. Potentially, the Wildcats could have a top-rated scoring offense but what about points in the paint?
Not since the days of Kevin Coble, the Wildcats haven’t had a legitimate inside threat. This has plagued the team for the past few seasons as not only have they relied heavily on outside jumpshots, but their rebounding has been near the bottom of the conference.
Northwestern this season, will have at least six incoming players on the roster who stand 6-feet 8-inches or taller. This should bode well for a team that couldn’t rebound to save its life last season. One of the more intriguing players this season for Northwestern could be walk-on Aaron Liberman.
Liberman who played in Israel last year and stands 6-feet 10-inches, attended Valley Torah High School in Los Angeles where he averaged 17.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 8.7 blocks during his 2010-2011 senior season. If Liberman can make the transition to playing at the Division I level, he could be just what the Wildcats need this season, a presence in the post.
Other than Liberman, Northwestern has probably more size than it has had in quite some time. The Wildcats will be deep at the center and power forward position this season with freshmen Alex Olah, Chier Ajou and recent Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire.
I don’t think either of these players will be great scorers for the Wildcats but there size in the paint has to help them rebound better. It was horrible to watch Northwestern lose games due to poor rebounding and turnovers last season.
Looking at the team’s schedule, reaching 20 wins shouldn’t be a problem but that is on paper. Northwestern faces its toughest early season test against Maryland on Nov. 27. Other than games against Butler, Baylor and Stanford, the Wildcats could begin conference play on Jan. 3 with one of the better records in the Big Ten.
It’s during conference play where the Wildcats will either sink or swim even though cats don’t like water. Northwestern not only has to get a berth to the NCAA tournament, they need a berth to the best postseason tournament in this country. If they can’t, look for some changes to be made on the coaching staff, which for some couldn’t come at a better time.
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