Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody felt concerned when John Shurna appeared to be losing weight in February, during the dog days of Big Ten play.
Protein shakes and hearty meals were not doing their part; Shurna was worn down. That came as no surprise, given the senior forward was asked to play 38.7 minutes per game in conference play, doing so at the unfamiliar center position.
When Selection Sunday came along, Northwestern was left out again; its oh-fer streak continued on.
With hopes of reaching the Big Dance next season, Carmody and his coaching staff are working to check off their biggest issues from last year. Most importantly, Northwestern is adding depth,which was desperatley needed last season.
Kale Abrahamson and Sanjay Lumpkin, two skilled swingmen, signed their letters of intent in November. As freshmen, both could be key contributors.
Check and check.
The biggest splash thus far came with the addition of former Louisville forward Jared Swopshire.
It's a tall task for Swopshire -- who will enroll at Northwestern as a graduate student -- to replace John Shurna's Big Ten-leading 20-point scoring average. Flush away Swopshire's 1.3 points per game average last season. He has the potential to be a star with the Wildcats, something he never amounted to with Louisville.
Swopshire will benefit from soley playing power forward, unlike Shurna who was forced to the role of center. This season, Northwestern has two new big men, incoming freshman Alex Olah (who is expected to sign his letter of intent this week), and TCU transfer Nikola Cerina.
That may not conclude the Wildcats' additions. Sources have indicated that Northwestern is considering whether to add another transfer.
The biggest, most important difference for Northwestern is the presence of reliable, consistent and experienced depth.
Check, check and check.
This Wildcat squad boasts a combined 283 collegiate starts, with four players returning who were regular starters last season. Carmody will have an ample supply of experience from his bench this season; far from the case last season.
NU has its three incoming freshmen, plus redshirt freshmen Mike Turner and Tre Demps will suit up for the first time. All of those players have the abilities to be key role players.
During Northwestern's game with Wisconsin in January, Carmody's squad dressed seven scholarship players, plus two walk-ons who saw signficant playing time in the loss.
It was no coincidence that Shurna, who carried a larger burden down the stretch, was constantly fatigued. He played from start to finish eight times last season.
Last season, Northwestern's lack of depth was a costly weakness; a factor in yet another missed NCAA tournament. Now, NU's deep, experienced bench is a tremendous strength for this year's team.