The 2011 Wildcats – sans Coble

When Kevin Coble broke his foot last season, the consensus silver lining was that the team would be loaded in 2011. Well, with the season looming a few months out, the Wildcats just learned that Coble is forgoing his senior season. With this news in mind, Purple Reign looks at the team that Northwestern brings back and if, sans Coble, the Cats can still make a run at the tourney.

In the annals of sports jinxing, Purple Reign registers not even a blip. Babe Ruth trades and Sports Illustrated covers and the Cubs – these are the sports world's equivalent to ladders and broken mirrors.

And no, Purple Reign doesn't make the cut. Here, it's purple Cats, not black cats.

Still, calamity has ensued since Nov. 10, 2009 – the day that Purple Reign ran this article, titled "Coble certain to climb," which detailed Kevin Coble's imminent ascension up the Northwestern all-time scoring chart. The prediction: barring some major anomalies or (gulp) injuries, Coble would end the 2009-10 season as NU's third-leading career scorer.

Within hours of publication, Coble had broken his foot and, following the ensuing surgery, was lost for the season. Fast forward to Tuesday, when Coble announced his decision to forgo his senior season.

With the way things have played out, that Purple Reign article about Coble's scoring prowess could be seen as a Babe Ruth-to-New York moment. Following the mathematical breakdown of Coble's inevitable climb up the NU record books, he will have never played another second with the Wildcats.

Not that Purple Reign has the clout to induce jinxes, but still…

As unprecedented as Coble's decision to quit the team is – What other three-year leading scorers have forgone their senior season for anything other than the NBA? – the 2010-11 season could still unfold the way it was supposed to all along: Northwestern will still field a team capable of making that inaugural Big Dance run.

That is, after all, what people were expecting after Coble broke his foot.

Following Coble's injury last November, the Tribune's Teddy Greenstein posited: "NU's only other prominent [2010] seniors are Jeremy Nash and Jeff Ryan, so the Wildcats would be loaded for the 2010-2011 season if Coble took a redshirt year."

And Basketball Prospectus published an article saying, "If there's good news here, though, it's that Bill Carmody is reportedly hard at work trying to talk Coble into taking a redshirt and coming back as a senior next year. Assuming Carmody is successful there, the ‘Cats would actually look pretty robust on paper for 2010-11….Anyway, given all of the above I'm getting an early start on this bracketology ‘11 thing and penciling in NU as an 11-seed."

Those predictions, of course, presumed that Coble would be back. But even without him, Northwestern figures to have the pedigree to go dancing. (As at other points in this article, now is a good time to knock on wood.)

There are some facets of this 2010-11 team that don't need much analysis. Case in point: Michael Thompson. The senior has started every game of his NU career, and last season he averaged 14.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. Oh, and he shot better than 41 percent from downtown…and had the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference (2.4)…and played at least 38 minutes 20 different times. You get the point. There is no reason to expect anything other than 30-someodd starts, 37 minutes a game and an uberefficient 15 and 4.5 from Thompson.

Junior John Shurna figures to be another non-wildcard. Like Thompson, he started every game last season, and his offensive production dwarfed that of Coble's. Shurna set single-season NU records with 619 points and 217 field goals; he was third in the Big Ten in scoring (18.2) and seventh in rebounding (6.4). Pencil him in for, oh, 19 and 6.5?

If other players on the team represent question marks, those two represent periods. They'll produce.

Now, about the questions. Let's start with 6-5 sophomore Drew Crawford, last season's third-leading scorer at 10.0 per game. Between his hops and his ballyhooed high school status – he was a national recruit with offers from the likes of Oklahoma State and Wake Forest – Northwestern hasn't had a ton of players like Crawford recently. But his freshman production does bear eerie similarities that of a former Cat – 6-3 guard Craig Moore.

Here are Moore's freshman numbers:

27.3 minutes
6.8 points
152 three-pointers
35.5 percent downtown
11.6 percent of the team's scoring

And here are Crawford's freshman numbers:

27.3 minutes
10 points
149 three-pointers
34.2 percent downtown
14.5 percent of the team's scoring

Identical minutes, almost identical three-point attempts and percentage, and a 3.2 point-per-game gap in scoring. Pretty close, huh? Well, maybe, just maybe, we can learn a little something about what to expect from Crawford's sophomore season based on what Moore did during his sophomore season.

So…what did Moore do as a sophomore?

27.5 minutes
8.1 points
180 three-point attempts

Does similar minutes and a slight uptick in scoring from Moore mean similar minutes and a slight uptick in scoring from Crawford?

This 2010-11 version of the Wildcats is obviously different than Moore's sophomore team, and moreover, Crawford is a very different player than Moore. Moore's sophomore squad went 2-14 in the conference and had only two players who averaged at least 11.5 points per game – and no one who averaged more than 13.4. This season's team, by contrast, will have a pair of players who can easily average 15.

In that sense, maybe Crawford won't see much of an increase in his scoring or attempts.

Then again, Crawford is a more versatile player and scorer than Moore. Crawford, for instance, attempted 81 free throws as a freshman; Moore attempted 13. What's more, 89 percent of Moore's attempts as a freshman were from downtown; only 56 percent of Crawford's attempts were from behind the arc.

But if Moore's numbers have any sort of oracular powers, look for Crawford to average similar (but slightly more) minutes and similar (but slightly more) points.

Those three – Thompson, Shurna and Crawford – figure to start every game, as does junior Luka Mirkovic, who started 29 or 33 games last season. Mirkovic was good for 7.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and nearly one block per game in 25 minutes. He shot 48 percent from the floor and, along with Shurna, helps form a serviceable front line. He seems like a true you-know-what-you're-going-to-get guy.

The fifth starter figures to be either 6-5 freshman JerShon Cobb or 6-3 sophomore Alex Marcotullio. Cobb, a three-star recruit from Decatur, Ga., will be a little bit green, but seeing as Crawford started every game last season and Shurna started every game in 2009, Bill Carmody has shown a willingness to play youngsters.

Marcotullio, on the other hand, doesn't have the upside of Cobb, but he proved last season that he has a propensity to hit big shots. Marcotullio canned 37 percent of his deep balls in 2010, and whether he's starting or coming off the bench, he'll be chucking when he's out there.

There are good reasons for either Cobb or Marcotullio to start. With Shurna, Thompson and Crawford starting – each of whom is a serious threat from downtown – Marcotullio could come off the bench to spell Cobb – who's not as polished of an outside threat – and lend some firepower as a sub. Or Cobb could come off the bench because, with Crawford starting, NU may want to have some height to bring in off the bench (Cobb has two inches and length on Marcotullio).

Seniors Jeff Ryan and Mike Capocci will likely round out the more-than-six-minutes-per-game rotation. Ryan missed last season because of a knee injury, but in 2009 he logged 12.5 minutes per game. And Capocci, who has bizarre per-game averages of 10, 4.9 and 7.5 minutes as a freshman, sophomore and junior, respectively, should hover around 10 minutes per game this season.

It's impossible to tell what exactly will happen in the wake of Coble's decision to quit the team. But besides Jeremy Nash – and granted, that's a big besides – this team returns six of its top seven players from last season's 20-14 squad.

It's still safe to say that – even without Coble – the Wildcats have the pieces to make it to their first ever…well, let's not jinx anything.

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