Men’s Basketball: While Michael “Juice” Thompson is gone, the dream lives on

Jonah Rosenblum

He was the heart of Northwestern’s program.

Officially listed at just five-feet, ten-inches, Michael “Juice” Thompson hit the clutch shots, made the courageous drives to the hoop and swished the three-pointers that allowed the Wildcats to morph from a cellar-dweller into a NCAA Tournament contender.

They will have to achieve their ultimate goal of making March Madness without their star point guard, however.

“Mike played as well as anybody did last year in the conference,” coach Bill Carmody said. “The last 12 games he was magnificent.”

While senior John Shurna has always put in the necessary scoring, the Cats will be looking to Drew Crawford to step up and help replace Thompson’s production. The junior averaged 12.1 points per game last season but suffered from inconsistency. He scored 16 points or more in 12 games last season but was limited to single-digit scoring in 12 games.

“Maybe there’s room for Drew to spread his wings a little bit,” Carmody said. “He really has to play consistently well. He’s logged a lot of minutes. Very athletic kid. Shoots the ball. He’s going to have to give us 15 and rebound.”

NU will also look to junior Alex Marcotullio and sophomore JerShon Cobb for increased production.

Marcotullio proved to be a more-than-capable outside shooter last year, hitting 35.7 percent of his tries from behind the arc, while Cobb averaged 7.4 points per game during his freshman campaign, displaying a knack for creating his own shots.

“I never think about replacing a guy. I just think the dynamic changes every year: This guy gets better; this guy improves,” Carmody said. “But those two guys, Cobb and Marcotullio, Marcotullio has a lot of experience, JerShon played, has some good games for us.”

In addition to fitting players in new roles, NU also has the excitement of facing a new conference rival as it hosts Nebraska on Feb. 2, 2012. While the Cats will have to study up on a new opponent, the Cornhuskers have the more arduous task of preparing for a whole new slate of Big Ten foes.

“You’ve got Michigan and Northwestern playing a whole different way than Iowa is playing or Indiana,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “In the league that we left, it was pretty much a man-to-man team. So that part’s going to be different. The unknown is always scary.”

Sadler also pointed out a few differences between the Big Ten and the Big 12, claiming that in the Big Ten, star players stick around longer and most notably, more fans attend the games.

“You’ve got to add the fact that the attendance in this league is just off the chart,” Sadler said. “You know, that’s what probably what sets this league apart from every other league in the country.”

Sadler and his Cornhuskers aren’t the only newcomer, however. After Ed DeChellis left Penn State to accept the head coaching position at Navy, the Nittany Lions replaced him with Patrick Chambers, who posted a 42-28 record during his two years as Boston University’s head coach. His rapid rise at Boston University was somewhat unprecedented, as Chambers became the first coach to earn 20 victories in each of his first two seasons there, and also was the quickest to earn a conference championship in school history.

Chambers is aware, however, that he is facing a different level of competition now that he is coaching in the Big Ten. He also said he was aware of what he had to compete with in terms of the school’s football program.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the Big Ten, and I’m excited to be a part of Penn State basketball,” Chambers said. “First of all, Penn State football is amazing. Joe Paterno has been there for 100 years. What he’s done there is incredible. We’re going to try to emulate that.”

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