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July 31, 2010

Can Northwestern make NCAAs without Coble?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. We have two questions this week, one today and one Sunday.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Northwestern is the only Big Six conference school never to make the NCAA field. Earlier this week, star forward Kevin Coble announced he was giving up basketball. Can the Wildcats end their NCAA drought without Coble?

David Fox's answer:
This is why Northwestern basketball is Northwestern basketball. The same way Bobby Johnson's retirement is the reason Vanderbilt football is Vanderbilt. Things just don't work out for the schools in those sports. Once they get a taste of a good thing -- poof! -- it's gone. I don't know how good Northwestern's tournament chances were with Coble, never mind without him. Maybe if Northwestern played in a different conference, but the Big Ten is shaping up to be the best league in the country next season. Michigan State and Purdue will be top-five teams. Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio State should make the field, too. The Big Ten could send a sixth team to the tournament, but do you really think it would be the team that lost to Penn State and Indiana late last season?

Mike Huguenin's answer:
The Wildcats came close last season, when Coble was injured and couldn't play. But they missed getting a bid, and they will miss again this season. Yes, four starters return, but the league as a whole is going to be tougher than it was last season. Outside of Penn State, I think a case can be made that every other league team will be just as good or better than it was last season. That bodes ill for Northwestern. Hey, there's always the NIT -- or the CBI or CIT.

Jason King's answer:
Even with the expanded field, I can't see Northwestern making the NCAA tournament without Coble, whose strange decision to quit jolted the Wildcats' program. Northwestern returns leading scorer John Shurna from a team that finished 20-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big Ten last season. Michael Thompson, Drew Crawford and Luka Mirkovic also are back. Still, as pesky of a squad as the Wildcats may be, they'll have a tough time finishing in the upper half of the Big Ten, which will be as strong as it's been in years. Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are national title contenders, while Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota are likely NCAA tournament teams. Indiana should be much better, too. Northwestern is taking a preseason trip to Italy, which will give the Wildcats a good sense of how they're going to look without Coble. My guess is that they will be solid but will come up short.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Northwestern might be good enough to get into some sort of postseason tournament without Coble in the lineup, but the Wildcats needed Coble to have a realistic shot at an NCAA invitation. Even though Northwestern returns four starters from a team that went 20-14 and reached the NIT last season, it's not as if this team was particularly close to earning an NCAA bid in 2010. The Wildcats went 7-11 in Big Ten competition and were 116th in the RPI. Northwestern should be better this season, but the Big Ten figures to be tougher. The Wildcats needed the addition of an All-Big Ten performer such as Coble to make a legitimate push for that elusive NCAA tournament berth.

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