Key Losses: F Davor Duvancic (6.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 apg), G T.J. Parker (9.7 ppg, 2.3 apg)
St. Lambert, PQ/Transfer from Kentucky
Doylestown, PA/Lawrenceville (NJ) Prep
Chicago, IL/Redshirt 2004-05
For the third consecutive season, Bill Carmody dipped into the transfer pool. That means the Wildcats will have to wait a year to see if Jason Okrzesik's move from Rice pays off. In the meantime, Coté, a transfer from Kentucky, should play a significant role in the frontcourt.
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Without a doubt, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody will hold a storied place in the Wildcats' record books after just five years in Evanston. He has the highest five-year win total of any coach in Northwestern history. His teams have posted double-digit wins in each of those five seasons, marking the first time that has happened since the 1930s. And he's made Welsh-Ryan Arena a feared place to play.
But he is also facing a familiar legacy as yet another Northwestern coach who cannot get the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament. For two consecutive years, injuries and slow starts have hampered that quest. Last year's 15-16 finish was especially disappointing given the veteran squad and high-profile transfer Mike Thompson, which Carmody put on the court.
"The last couple of years we have not done well outside of the conference," Carmody says. "That is so important. You have to win almost all your non-conference games because the conference is so hard."
So this year, Carmody once again will try to cook up a postseason recipe. Three returning starters and a healthy (and eligible) Thompson are suitable ingredients.
Carmody says a team never can have too many big bodies. The Wildcats will test that theory this year with four players 6-foot-8 or taller competing for two or three frontcourt spots.
The most heralded of the group is Thompson, a former McDonald's All-America who began his career at Duke. Even though Thompson is a senior, he is unproven. He played sparingly with the Blue Devils, sat out a year and then played just 13 games last season because of eligibility restrictions and a broken foot suffered late.
"He is a big body who can run and jump, but he doesn't have any real track record in college," Carmody says. "We'll see what happens."
Thompson's rebounding potential is the greatest asset for the Wildcats, who were outrebounded by 5.5 boards per game last season.
Vedran Vukusic is Northwestern's leading returning scorer and has been its most reliable player the past two years. Vukusic routinely surprises opponents by stepping outside and hitting 3-pointers; he is a career 38.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Bernard Coté, a transfer from Kentucky who sat out last season, is another big man who Carmody says could be the Wildcats' best shooter. However, like Thompson, Coté has little college playing experience.
Sharing time with Thompson at center will be Vince Scott, who was thrown into the rotation sooner than Carmody expected last year because of Thompson's injury. Scott lacks the bulk of his frontcourt teammates, but he held his own in Big Ten play and provided the rebounding and defense Northwestern needed.
In a rarity for the Northwestern program, Carmody watched his top player, guard T.J. Parker, leave Evanston early for the NBA this summer. Parker ran the Wildcats' offense for three years, and his spot leaves the biggest hole to fill.
Shooting guards Mohamed Hachad and Michael Jenkins were both solid last year and they will both figure prominently into the guard rotation again. Hachad, who finished the season with seven consecutive double-digit scoring efforts, is a high-percentage shooter, and he was second on the team in steals. Jenkins, a three-year walk-on, earned a scholarship for this school year and may even earn a starting spot.
Even though the Wildcats have no true point guard to replace Parker, that may not be a huge problem because of to Carmody's pass-and-cut offense. A key part in running that offense may turn out to be the play of Sterling Williams, who redshirted last year. Williams is an athletic Chicago native who Carmody says was one of the best practice players during the second half of last season.
Carmody also is expecting better production from Tim Doyle, a St. John's transfer who joined Hachad and Vukusic as the only Northwestern players to see action in all 31 games last year. Evan Seacat is another guard who will need to up his scoring production this season.
Carmody has no doubt increased the talent level at Northwestern, but the Wildcats still lag behind most of their competition in the Big Ten.
This team has some nice parts, but there are too many question marks to believe this will be the Wildcat team that breaks through and receives an invite to the NCAA tournament. A winning record and a trip to the NIT are, however, possibilities.