NU hopes its Magnificent Seven will hold up (Men’s Basketball)

Brian Sumers

Leaving Big East powerhouse St. John’s, Tim Doyle wanted to make sure he could join another top-tier program.

He chose Northwestern, but not before doing some research on his new school.

“One thing I noticed, looking at the media guide, is that they don’t win too much,” he said.

It’s true, the Wildcats have managed just nine winning seasons in the last 50 years. They’ve won two Big Ten titles — the last one coming in 1933 — and have never advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

But there’s a different swagger to this year’s squad, one that suggests that another winning season isn’t far away. After three years with coach Bill Carmody and his Princeton offense, the Cats say they are ready to play with the best in the Big Ten.

“I want to be a part of this, the first time in school history to go to the tournament,” sophomore guard T.J. Parker said.

This might not be the year the Cats make history, considering the team is coming off a 3-13 Big Ten record, good enough for 10th place in the conference. While the Cats might not be able add five or six wins in one season, they should improve this year — at least barring any new injuries.

NU has just seven healthy scholarship players, with senior Patrick Towne out for the season with a torn achilles tendon and freshman Ivan Tolic nursing a knee injury. The 6-foot-9 Tolic, the Cats strongest player, should play this year, but he’s out for at least another month, coach Bill Carmody said. And Doyle, the Cats’ 10th scholarship player, must sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

That leaves freshman Vince Scott and junior Davor Duvancic to patrol the paint for NU. Duvancic came on strong last year, recording 20 points against Illinois in the season’s final game. But for the season, Duvancic averaged just 2.8 points per game, so the Cats will need increased offensive production from the Croatian.

Duvancic will be backed up by Scott, the Cats lone first-year player. While the 6-foot-10 Scott is just 220 pounds — considerably skinnier than most Big Ten post players — Carmody said he’s excited his center will be able to roam the court better than Aaron Jennings did last year.

“He was a statue,” Carmody said of Jennings. “He never moved, but he was our tallest guy.”

Carmody said the Cats will be quicker than ever this season, led by the backcourt of Parker and Mohamed Hachad, who averaged 4.3 points per game last season. The sophomore hit his stride late, starting the season’s final 13 games. He had his finest moments in NU’s upset win over Indiana, when he scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and had six steals.

Still, Carmody said Hachad isn’t close to reaching his potential.

“Is he going to be 28 before he reaches it? That’s what I ask him,” Carmody said. “Can we move it along? Can we accelerate it a little?”

Although sophomore Vedran Vukusic missed all of last season, Carmody’s not worried about his star forward’s potential — or his playing ability. Carmody gushes about Vukusic, an excellent shooter and the team’s best passer.

“He spoonfeeds them — they can’t miss,” Carmody said. “Anyone would get in double figures playing with him.”

The 6-foot-8 Vukusic caused matchup problems for opposing teams in 2001-2002, even as he battled shoulder problems.

“Who’s going to guard him?” Carmody said. “They couldn’t guard him as a freshman.”

Vukusic and senior Jitim Young, NU’s captain, are likely to lead the Cats in scoring this season. Young has 1,002 points in his career, making him just the 13th NU player to score that many in three years. He also enters the campaign with 149 steals, third on NU’s all-time list.

Sophomore point guard Parker also returns, fresh off a summer with the French Junior National Team. Last season, he scored 11.4 points per game and led the team in 3-pointers with 41.

Evan Seacat is expected to be a significant contributor off the bench, serving once again as 3-point shooter extraordinaire. The sophomore guard took 72 shots last season — 66 of them from beyond the arc.

Parker and Hachad will continue their tradition of speaking French to each other in the backcourt, leaving opponents unable to guess their offensive plans. Their center, Scott, thought he might be able to join in their conversations, but found it wasn’t meant to be.

“I took French for a little bit this quarter but I had to drop it because I didn’t understand it,” he said. “I’m staying with English right now.”