Instead, bad news struck the Wildcats and their senior star. Drew Crawford must have surgery to repair a torn labrum, and his season is over.
Now, Northwestern must hope Crawford is able to obtain a medical hardship waiver, which appears to be likely. In the meantime, the Wildcats must move on. It sure won't be easy, though. Drew Crawford is the heart of his team. He is the star player, the veteran leader, and the friendly teammate. He'll be forced to the sidelines, now. There is plenty to take from this news.
It's time for leaders to step up
It's easy to write off this season, without Crawford and Jershon Cobb. The NCAA tournament drought is likely to continue—that's just being realistic. Don't tell that to Dave Sobolewski, Jared Swopshire, and Reggie Hearn.
On Saturday, Northwestern players will meet the media. They'll sell this team as a tournament-caliber team and offer reasons for hope. In reality, this season will be a rebuilding year, with first-year players forced into key roles. There's only so much the seasoned veterans can do.
Sobolewski and Hearn have guided Northwestern with a steady hand, while Swopshire—often inconsistent—has potential to make an impact. If the Wildcats' leaders want this team to stay afloat, they must step up.
Wait till next year
And this is the part where I'm realistic. Northwestern wasn't a sure thing to make the NCAA tournament with Crawford available. Without him, it will be a nearly impossible task. You can pardon Wildcat fans for looking ahead.
It's likely that Crawford will be granted a fifth year of eligibility, returning to a loaded team. He'd join freshman playmakers such as Jaren Sina and Nate Taphorn, while current freshmen such as Kale Abrahamson, Sanjay Lumpkin, and Alex Olah gain comfort in their roles. Oh, did I mention JerShon Cobb will return?
If this season turns into a rebuilding year—and it likely will—then the potential for the 2013-14 campaign is very high.
Hold off on evaluating Bill Carmody
It was uncertain whether Bill Carmody would even be coaching in 2012, that after his Northwestern team fell short of the NCAA tournament during John Shurna's senior season. Many believed Carmody needed an NCAA tournament berth in 2013 to be retained. Now, everything is on hold.
Every Northwestern fan has an opinion on the body of work Bill Carmody has produced during his tenure in Evanston. With a depleted roster this season, it's simply unfair to offer judgment on the 13th-year head coach.
NU could make the tournament this season, and it could finish in the Big Ten's basement. If it's the latter, you'll have to excuse Carmody.