Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2008-09 Preview: Northwestern

Northwestern (Last season: 8-22, 1-17, #158 Pomeroy ranking): Ouch.

That about sums up Northwestern's 07-08 campaign. Were it not for the heroics of Craig Moore, the Wildcats would have gone winless in conference.

It was a fairly typical Northwestern season. On offense, the team survived by keeping the ball on the perimeter, shooting a lot of threes, and thus minimizing turnovers. All of this came at the expense of offensive rebounding and getting to the line, where the Wildcats were among the worst in the nation. On defense, Northwestern's trapping style forced a lot of turnovers, but when opposing teams held onto the ball, they scored at will (55.8% 2P, 38.8% 3P, 37.5% OReb).

I wouldn't expect the style to change much, but I do think that Northwestern will grab a few more boards and disrupt a few more shots this upcoming season. Part of that is the best recruiting class in school history, but most the optimism comes from returning players. Northwestern returns 91% of its minutes from last season. That kind of retention is what took Baylor from 15-16 to 21-11 (ok, that and LaceDarius Dunn). Now, I'm not expecting any miracles here - the Wildcats will almost surely miss out on the NCAA tournament yet again - but they should be able to win more than three Big 10 games (the amount of conference wins in 06-07 and 07-08 combined). If things break right, this is a team that could battle for 6th in the Big 10, and could get an NIT bid.

Wildcat fans have to be happy with the direction of the program as well. Kevin Coble is only a junior this season (and should be on the short list of candidates for preseason player of the year...yes, really), Michael Thompson is one of the best young point guards in the conference (who, like other young guards, needs to learn to stay outside the arc), and the aforementioned recruits should improve the team tremendously in the next 4-5 years. If everyone stays healthy, this is an NCAA tournament team soon, possibly as soon as 2009-10. For now though, the Wildcats will be satisfied that they are no longer in the basement of the conference.

Projected Northwestern rotation (statistics are for conference games only):

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