Cursed-case scenario

Cursed-case scenario

It's been a dizzying season for Northwestern's hoops team. And we're only one game in. Two season-ending injuries to two seniors, including the team's unquestioned leader, have cast quite the question mark over all the preseason plans.

The inaugural Purple Reign Bad Luck Gambling Lines*:

Black cat was let loose on Welsh Ryan court: 4-1
Former Wildcat Marlon Day's old No. 13 jersey was accidentally placed in Kevin Coble's locker: 6-1
(Parlay option: The jersey found its way to Coble's locker AND THEN was placed in Jeff Ryan's locker: 13-1)
Mirror in the locker room fell: 7-2
More than one mirror in the locker room fell: 13-1

* Bets can be placed by writing to northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

OK, it's crummy to make light of the misfortune-filled week that the Northwestern basketball team has had. Sorry. But what is it they say? Laugh to keep from crying?

If ever that were true, it's now. Because this season has been a dizzying, brow-furrowing, sigh-inducing adventure. Already. After one game.

The preseason buzz was fun, it was different, it was a change from the pedestrian expectations of years past. There was a good bit of chatter – from national outlets like NBC Sports' Web site, as well as ESPN.com's Pat Forde – about how coach Bill Carmody really needed to get to the Dance this year. And all of the hot-seat talk was accompanied by the fact that, hey, this team really could and should get to the Big Dance. It was an unusually eventful and anticipatory preseason.

And now, in the past week, a pair of injuries – one downright devastating, the other definitely annoying – have made Purple Reign wonder just what happened for all this bad luck to pool around Evanston.

Last Tuesday, Coble, who has led Wildcats in scoring and rebounding in each of his three seasons at NU, came down with a foot injury. It was announced Sunday night that Coble, a second-team All-Big Ten player last season, will miss the entire season because of a surgery.

"Basically the bones are out of alignment [in his foot] and he needs to get this done for stability," Carmody was quoted saying in an ESPN.com article. "(Coble)* has no choice."

* To his credit, Coble has been equal parts (a) upbeat, (b) honest and (c) funny about his injury. In that order:

(a) "I still think now, it's not like the world stops because of this," Coble told NU Sports. "I don't think the goal or anything has changed from 24 hours ago to now."

(b) "It's disappointing, certainly," Coble also told the Web site. "Frustrating for me, but I'd imagine for the guys too seeing how well everything had been going."

(c) "It's French. I've learned all about it," Coble told a gaggle of reporters before Friday's game of his injury, officially been dubbed a mild Lisfranc fracture.

And this comes within 48 of Ryan's season-ending ACL injury, which will also require surgery. Ryan fell to the floor after 14 minutes of playing time against Northern Illinois, bringing NU's season totals to:

- Four weeks of practice
- One game
- Two seniors lost for the season

"I feel badly for Jeff," Northwestern head coach Carmody told NUSports.com. "He had been playing very well the past weeks and we were looking forward to him being a key contributor this season. It's an unfortunate situation and we hope that he's able to have a speedy recovery."

While Ryan didn't start at all last season, and while he averaged only 2.1 points, his injury is nothing to scoff at. Having appeared in 28 games a year ago, he was almost certain to be part of the nine-man rotation that Carmody was so giddy about this preseason.

"Well, you know, I can look down the bench and think, 'That ninth guy's OK,'" Carmody said at Big Ten Media Day. Indeed, that ninth guy could have been Ryan.

His 12.5 minutes last season ranked eighth on the team, and he was sure to get minutes this season spelling either a guard or forward; he could play either spot. Now, his versatility and experience are gone. (He had two steals, an assist and a rebound in 14 minutes against Northern Illinois before crumpling to the court.)

With these two injuries, Northwestern loses two of its four seniors, 161 combined games and a great deal of the preseason optimism surrounding this season. It's not like all is lost. But all is changed.

The starting lineup will likely remain what it was against Northern Illinois, when freshman Drew Crawford, sophomores John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic, junior Michael Thompson and senior Jeremy Nash were the first five.

Ivan Peljusic was the top bench player, earning 23 minutes, seven points and seven boards. Kyle Rowley* was fine, snaring three boards and putting in five points in 13 minutes.

* Do these two most recent injuries make you forget that Rowley broke his foot this summer, or does it make it more stark? With how much of a blow this Coble injury is, it almost seems an afterthought that a full-time starter from last season's squad has had to battle his own injury. And then Ryan goes down, and it's like a day where there is already too much to do – and then one more thing comes up.

But those seven may very well be the extent of the rotation. And don't forget that a week ago Carmody was talking about how his nine-deep was one of the team's strengths.

Wednesday's game against No. 10 Butler will be an interesting one to see where the Cats are at, and what this team will look like without Coble and Nash. Unlike Northern Illinois, which NU beat handily, Butler is a big-time opponent that will be going to the Tourney at the end of the season, just like it has each of the last three seasons.

Mock odds-making aside, it'd be interesting to see how much the odds of Northwestern making the Tournament have changed in the past week.

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