As is tradition, every year, Northwestern runs out to a gaudy non-conference record. In the last three seasons Northwestern has started their seasons a collective 30-3. That is very impressive. This year is no different, as they now sit at 7-2. However, the less impressive statistic is the fact they did not make the NCAA Tournament any of those years, as well as every other year ever.
So, although Northwestern’s 74-70 win at Baylor is impressive, let’s not go crazy yet. Every year the common reaction is to see what Northwestern does in November and December and say that this will be the year they make it to the dance. Yet, they have never made it to the NCAA Tournament. That is because their other tradition, along with fast starts, is to completely fall apart in conference play. Last year, for example, the Wildcats finished 9-13 after their 10-1 start. What should convince anyone that this team is any different, or any better than Bill Carmody’s teams of the past?
The fact that they lost arguably the program’s best player ever, John Shurna, does not help their case. Northwestern’s best players (Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn) are all pretty good. Crawford might even have NBA aspirations.
Sobolewski is one of the unknown really good Big Ten players. The conference is so strong at point guard, that he is often overlooked. I first saw him play his senior year in high school, against Jabari Parker’s Simeon team. He completely controlled the pace of the game in a win. Sobolewski kept up with Parker, as his Benet team became the top team in Illinois. As a sophomore Sobolewski has a chance to be a top five point guard in the conference.
However, when you look past those three, there is not much else. Northwestern teams under Carmody have always seemed to lack quality depth. That is where the school’s recruiting troubles are really exposed.
It is hard to argue that this is a better team than last season’s group. Crawford, Hearn and Sobolewski have improved, but the loss of Shurna is too big to cancel out. The fact that last year’s Northwestern team was not even on the bubble, shows that this year’s team won’t be any closer. Before the season I wrote that this should be Carmody’s last season, unless the Wildcats surprise and make the dance. So, when you see Northwestern beat Baylor on December 4th, remember to wait to see how they play in February and March. Because odds are their games in March will once again be in the NIT.
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