Marcotullio on the mark so far

With the team in dire need of players to compensate for the loss of Kevin Coble, freshman Alex Marcotullio has had a sterling start to the season. After playing just one minute in the opener, Marcotullio has been integral in the Cats' last two games. A closer look at the freshman's numbers, and how important they have been to the Cats' 2-1 start.

To his credit, Bill Carmody didn't pour heaps of sugar on his thoughts following Kevin Coble's season-ending injury. Carmody didn't act like it wasn't a huge hit; he didn't act like nothing had changed.

Because, of course, things did change when Coble went down with a foot injury just days before the season started. And without Coble, Northwestern is without its top scorer and rebounder three years running. Without a 35-minute-per-game contributor. Without a senior leader who, if things went as planned, figured to land on the All-Big Ten first team and climb as high as No. 3 – if not higher – on the Wildcats' all-time scoring chart.

"I didn't sleep last night trying to figure out all the different things," Carmody told after Coble's injury. "But I know you have to, scoring, he (Coble) scored when there wasn't anything. He's one of those guys who comes up with stuff that isn't in the offense, like the good guys do. That's hard to replace. Some people say, 'Well, it's an opportunity....This is your time.'

"It's not like I'm singing the blues. But I'm not positive what's going to happen."

Also from Coach: "(The injury) changes everything. We'll wait and see. Maybe we'll figure it out on the fly. Maybe every game will be different.

Everyone was in the same boat as Carmody: not positive what's going to happen. Again, there are about 16 points and five to six boards missing without Coble in the lineup, and different players – whoever they may be – would need to provide points and production without the team's unquestioned leader.

So, in the ongoing quest to see who ends up filling the ginormous void left by Coble's foot injury, Purple Reign will be keeping tabs on who ends up stepping up this season – assuming, that is, that some players do indeed step up.

Some of the usual suspects have carried NU thus far. Junior Michael Thompson* had a career-high 31 points against Tennessee State on Sunday, leading the Cats to a victory that – trailing 61-53 with 5:26 remaining – was anything but certain. And senior Jeremy Nash, who averaged just three points per game last season, dropped 20 in the season-opener against Northern Illinois. And sophomore John Shurna is second on the team in scoring at 12.5 per through three games.

* After the Tennessee State game, Carmody said of Thompson: "I think he averaged eight or nine shots a game last year. And we said, 'You've got to take 12 or 13 shots a game, even with Kevin in there.' So he knew coming into this year that he was going to be expected to score a little bit more." After the 31-point outburst, it looks like he knows that too.

Those three, of course, were among the usual suspects when it came to the "Who will produce in Coble's stead?" question. So was freshman Drew Crawford, who had eight points, eight rebounds – four of them on offense – four assists and two steals against Tennessee State. Carmody mentioned all of these guys – Thompson, Nash, Shurna and Crawford – as players who would simply have to increase their output this season.

But one player who went largely unmentioned was Alex Marcotullio, a freshman guard from Warren, Mich. Marcotullio, 6-3, had a rep as a pure shooter when he arrived on campus, and the early returns have vouched for that. Indeed, without Marcotullio, NU may have very well lost to TSU. And, seeing as the Tigers had just 12 wins a season ago, there would have been no silver lining as with the loss to No. 10 Butler.

Marcotullio's three-pointer with 2:22 left against TSU broke a 62-62 tie and capped a 12-1 NU run. Now, this run was started and spurred by Thompson, who had eight of those 12 points en route to his career night. But Marcotullio, reputed to be a pure shooter, showed off that pure stroke – and at a most crucial moment, no less.

"And then Alex Marcotullio banged that big shot, which was nice…" Carmody said after the game. "I knew that one was going in, but Alex's was a pretty long shot there. He sort of caught it in stride and he was calling for the ball, he wanted the ball so it was good to see two freshmen producing."

So, if this is a sign of things to come, it's a good sign. Marcotullio – who finished a perfect and eerily symmetrical three-for-three from three-point range – was on the court in the waning moments. He called for the ball. He delivered. He finished with nine points on three shots in 18 minutes.

Carmody conceded that he didn't how this season would go a few weeks ago, and truth be told he probably still doesn't. Fans sure don't. But it looks at a glance like Marcotullio could help loosen up defenses this season. At least if the first few games are any indication.

Sure, Marcotullio is only averaging 11.3 minutes and less than six points per game. But don't forget that he played only a single minute in the season-opener against Northern Illinois. Against Butler, he played 15 minutes and hit three of six shots for eight points.

In the last two games, he's averaging 8.5 points, 16.5 minutes and a steal. Oh, and the marksman is shooting 62.5 percent – five of eight – from downtown. On the year, he's averaging nearly two points per attempt (nine attempts, 17 points). Not bad.

Now, obviously Marcotullio's percentage will come back down to earth. And obviously the team will need other players to step up as the season wears on. But early on, it looks like one of the players who maybe wasn't expected to carry much of the load might, after all, be able to pitch in his share – or more than his share.

In a season where there has already been an uncanny amount of surprise, surprises should no longer be considered aberrations.

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