After Northwestern narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament, changes needed to be made. Coach Bill Carmody addressed the recurrent rebounding woes by signing a number of big men, hoping that size will translate to wins.
That storyline changed, however, when junior Jershon Cobb was suspended for the 2012-2013 season. Now, with the shooting guard spot in limbo, several players saw their opportunities open up.
The competition intensified. Seniors Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn both vie for the starter’s role. Redshirt freshman combo guard Tre Demps should also figure into the mix for playing time. They understand the stakes are high.
“It’s always competitive. All our practices have been,” Marcotullio said. “We know we’re all battling for minutes but at the same time we’re part of a bigger picture. So we’re all working towards that main goal and pushing each other.”
Because of the hype surrounding the arrival of Jared Swopshire, it is easy to forget the usual offensive mindset at NU. Last season, the Cats drained 153 three-pointers, which ranked first in the Big Ten. That number is even more impressive considering they ranked second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage.
Carmody acknowledged that the added big men should help the team improve its rebounding and post play. Still, raining shots from deep has been a staple of recent NU teams.
“We are going to tweak our offense, and we already have, to take advantage of (the size),” Carmody said. “We’ve been a very good three-point shooting team in the past few years. I think we’ll be decent but we will be a better balanced team.”
Hearn, a former walk-on, broke out last season with several impressive performances. He was efficient from the outside, making about 37 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. It was no surprise, though, that his production declined when the oft-injured Cobb played.
Marcotullio might have something more to prove. He scored only 5.2 points per game last season, down a full point from his sophomore season. He demonstrated flashes of excellence – specifically the game-tying triple against Ohio State – yet failed to make as significant an impact as some expected. He said that regardless of the rotation, this team can succeed from the outside.
“We have a lot of perimeter guys and a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket – especially from the three-point line,” Marcotullio said. “We have a good cast of guys who can knock down shots consistently.”
Dave Sobolewski locked down the point guard position with steady play throughout the season. Demps could back up Sobolewski at the point, but if he taps into his talent, it may be difficult to keep him off the floor.
After suffering a season-ending injury four games into last season, Demps was given a medical redshirt. With his skillset, he could also fight for minutes at the two-guard spot this year. Marcotullio said that although Demps has the natural ability, his diligence is what shines through.
“Tre’s an immense talent but he’s worked so hard. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve seen,” Marcotullio said. “He’ll apply another dimension to our perimeter threats. He’s more of a ‘slashy’ type and can finish in a whole bunch of ways.”
Sobolewski noted the loss of Shurna forces NU to “fill the void” on the scoreboard. The additional absence of Cobb hurts the Cats in that department. Cobb – who is also arguably the best defender on the team – averaged 16 points in the final four games of the season.
Sobolewski said the guard slipping under the radar, Demps, should be able to help the cause.
“Everybody is saying we’re losing Shurna and he brought 20 points (per game),” Sobolewski said. “We’re going to need to fill that somehow and I think Tre will be a part of that.”
NU said farewell to its top all-time scorer this offseason, and much of the scoring burden now falls on the shooting guard position.
Without Cobb, it’s time for someone to step up.