Welcome to The Sports Bank’s fourth annual college basketball season preview series where we break 111 teams in the 111 days leading up to the opening tip-off of the 2013-2014 season. We will rank the 84 power conference teams (including the new Big East and American Athletic Conferences) and top 27 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order. We’ll break down rosters, transfers, incoming freshmen, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.
The Chris Collins era is underway for the Northwestern Wildcats. The long-time Duke assistant faces the challenge of helping a team mired in mediocrity turn the corner.
Last Season: 11th, 4-14 in B10, 13-19 overall
Predicted Finish: 10th
Projected Depth Chart
C: Alex Olah (So)/Nikola Cerina (Sr)/Chier Ajou (So)
F: Kale Abrahamson (So)/Mike Turner (So)
G/F: Drew Crawford (Sr)/Sanjay Lumpkin (Fr)/Nathan Taphorn (Fr)
SG: JerShon Cobb (Jr)
PG: Dave Sobolewski (Jr)/Tre Demps (So)
Gone: SG-Reggie Hearn, F-Jared Swopshire, PG-Alex Marcotullio
The absence of the team’s top two players mightily factored into Northwestern’s struggles last season which ultimately led to the firing of Bill Carmody. Before Big Ten play began, Drew Crawford suffered a torn labrum and underwent season ending shoulder surgery while JerShon Cobb was suspended for the entire year due to a violation of team rules. Both guys return as Crawford was granted a medical hardship waiver and will be the driving forces behind Collins’ first season with the Wildcats.
Steady Dave Sobolewski returns to run the point. He has started all 65 games since arriving in Evanston because of his basketball IQ. Tre Demps looks to build off a solid freshman campaign and will be the first guard off the bench since he is capable of playing either backcourt position. Redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin adds athleticism on the wing and Nathan Taphorn could see immediate minutes due to his ability to stroke it from deep.
The interior is anchored by seven-foot sophomore Alex Ojah. The Romanian was thrust into a starting role last year but isn’t your typical big man in that he does have decent range with his outside shot. More size comes off the bench with 7-2 redshirt freshman Chier Ajou, the cousin of Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng. Senior Nikola Cerina is another option for Collins in the middle if chooses to utilize a smaller lineup. The former TCU transfer had a disappointing first year with the Wildcats but proved he can be productive from his solid sophomore season with the Horned Frogs.
Trying to follow in the line of undersized, face-up fours like the program has seen in recent years with Kevin Coble and John Shurna, is Kale Abrahamson. He is a three-point threat who is expected to see increased minutes due to the loss of Jared Swopshire. Mike Turner brings more athleticism to the forward spot and should see his fair share of court time as well.
With Crawford and Cobb back in the fold, the Northwestern Wildcats should be improved from last season’s abysmal finish. However, they don’t figure to have the talent to make a major jump in the once again extremely competitive Big Ten Conference. More importantly for Collins, is trying to establish a tradition of winning and erase the black cloud hanging over this program which has never made a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Player to Watch: Drew Crawford
There were some rumblings in the off-season that Crawford might leave Northwestern since he earned his degree and could have been immediately eligible at another school via the NCAA graduate student rule (aka college basketball free agency.) Crawford decided to stick it out with the Wildcats which will be critical to their season since he adds leadership to a relatively young team and provides Collins with a proven, go-to scoring option.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/14 at Stanford
11/28 vs. Missouri (Las Vegas Invitational)
11/29 vs. UCLA (Las Vegas Invitational)
12/4 at N.C. State (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/27 vs. DePaul
OTHER 111’S IN 111:
#76 Indiana State
#77 Georgia Tech
#84 Washington State
#86 Oregon State
#87 Louisiana Tech
#89 Wake Forest
#90 Central Florida
#95 Seton Hall
#97 George Mason
#99 Penn State
#101 West Virginia
#102 South Florida
#103 Mississippi State
#105 South Carolina
#106 Texas Tech
#108 Virginia Tech
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu to Milwaukee. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet , AND the second most accurate 2013 NBA Mock Draft. (Yup, nearly 3peat champ… #humblebrag.)
You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.Follow paulmbanks