Medline: Next year, a different Cobb

Next year, JerShon Cobb will have to chance to carry NU to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. This season, likely over for him, captured a glimpse of his potential.

Jershon Cobb's season likely ended after he suffered a foot injury against Ohio State.

But forget about this season: His biggest test is waiting later this calendar year.

Of all the great players to stroll through Northwestern, Cobb might have the next most realistic chance at guiding the Wildcats to an NCAA Tournament berth.

Yes, that JerShon Cobb. The one who was suspended last season, reportedly for academic reasons. The one whose hip was never quite recovered. The one who struggled to be third scoring option—much less the second.

That JerShon Cobb proved doubters (like me) wrong with each passing game. He showed his prowess on the defensive perimeter, his ability to create offense, and even some skill from the point guard spot.

When Chris Collins praised Cobb before the season, he correctly identified his scoring and sudden intensity. This offseason, though, he'll be focused on something entirely different.

The Wildcats have real postseason hopes next year. They hold an outstanding freshman core led by Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and super sleeper Gavin Skelly. But, of course, they need that senior to tie it all together and bridge the gap between new and old teammates.

There is no candidate better than Cobb, who needs to be "the guy" to some extent next year. Part of the scoring burden left by Drew Crawford falls on him.

Crawford, now a senior, struggled at every juncture of his career to be the truly dominant force. It's difficult to argue against him being among the greats—despite him cratering during the five-game losing streak. Still, the times Crawford disappeared this year, Cobb cannot next season.

It's reasonable to think he can do it. Even with the lofty expectations we had for Cobb this season, it's hard to explain how much he improved. With an increased role, and 34 minutes per game, he scored 12.2 points on 41 percent shooting and a solid 35 percent clip from behind the arc. He was an effective rebounder (4.8 per game), which helped to offset the team's lack of interior presence this year.

Better, with a more specific role, his teammates can come to him. There's no doubt that highly touted point guard—and versatile offensive talent—Bryant McIntosh will help facilitate for his teammates. Cobb, obviously, is not a natural point guard. He and his midrange game would benefit from having a distributor, with McIntosh being someone who can score first or pass first as needed.

At least in year two of the Collins era, the ball will go through Cobb. He deserves it. There can't be anything similar to last week's Minnesota game, when Cobb dominated until fading late in the second half. The Wildcats need a player who can seal games in late stages, and all offseason, Cobb will try to learn how.

This season, as I wrote earlier, is a wash anyway. Regardless of whether Cobb magically returns, it will hardly give us a preview of anything to expect next year. The team figures to be that much different.

It's anything but a contrivance. We're not panicking, getting sentimental and hoping Cobb can evolve into someone he's not. After having his basketball career placed in jeopardy, Cobb returned healthy, and until that gave out, he helped NU to an impressive midseason run.

Soon, that won't be enough. Expectations should, and will, rise for Collins' second season in Evanston. There's his first crop of new guys, bolstered by a solid crew of holdovers left by Bill Carmody and his staff. The old NU way (settling for mediocre results) disappears, which places even more responsibility on Cobb to win games.

You can hope that he gets healthy, soon. You can forget about the impact it has on this season, already and unfortunately lost. Next season, his senior campaign, Cobb has to return better than ever. If he does, he might be the improbable candidate to lead NU to an improbable tournament berth. It's his shot now.

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