The prevailing storyline for Bill Carmody’s Wildcats last year centered around if 2009-10 was finally the season the team broke through and made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
But alas, it was not to be.
The Wildcats finished a healthy 20-14 (7-10 Big Ten), and were bounced out of the first round of the NIT at the hands of Rhode Island.
Such a finish was accomplished without the team’s best player, Kevin Coble, who missed the entire season due to a foot injury.
But Coble has decided not to return to the team for his senior year. At first, reports framed it as Coble wanting to focus on academics. But today comes word from Coble that a dispute between him and Carmody over his reluctance to go on the team’s trip to Italy in August when he was still recovering from the injury was also to blame.
Whatever the case, Coble is gone, and the Wildcats are likely worse off for it this season.
But they do still sport a decent facsimile of Coble in junior John Shurna, a Glenbard West product who averaged 18.2 points a contest last season, and has already hung 31 on Northern Illinois and 20 on Texas Pan-American this year.
He can fill it up.
Senior point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson is also on board for 2010-11, and his 3-point shooting prowess is about as good as it comes in the Big Ten. Sophomore Drew Crawford is off to a hot start in 2010-11 (25 points against NIU, 20 against TPA).
Bottom line: Between Juice and Shurna the Wildcats have two strong players to run the show in their Princeton-styled offense. And don’t forget: This team had a very good offense last season, second only to Wisconsin on a per-possession basis.
It was their defense — last in the league on a per-possession basis — that needs to show some strides this season.
The team has a relatively easy non-conference schedule, and should come into the Big Ten season with a pretty solid record. But whether they can make a significant enough leap off of last season and vault into the NCAA Tournament remains to be seen.
With the likes of Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota to contend with in the top half of the league, the Wildcats may again find themselves coming up short in their tourney quest if the D doesn’t improve.
Quotable: “He’s a Coble clone. Crafty, awkward looking shot, deceivingly quick, but just money in the bank down the stretch. He’s made huge strides each offseason and word was he tore it up as a member of USA Basketball this summer. Allegedly he took it to Lamar Odom (as confirmed by Carmody at media day). The kid is just a winner. Doesn’t look pretty doing it, but 20 ppg in the Big Ten doesn’t come without greatness. It is clearly his team and Juice Thompson’s team. I expect him to really step up as a more vocal leader and take Crawford, Cobb and the others under his wing.” — Lake the Posts on Shurna, as told to UM Hoops