Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

January 2012 Archives

Wildcats guard JerShon Cobb is still hobbled by a sore left leg, coach Bill Carmody said Monday, and isn't expected to play this week. Cobb, who had offseason surgery on his left hip, has played and practiced sparingly this season. Carmody said Cobb had tendonitis in his knee and now has pain going down his leg, but Carmody does not know if the injury is related to the offseason surgery.

"They've done MRIs and X-rays and it all looks fine," Carmody said. "Now he's getting a little pain down his leg and they're trying to figure it out."

Cobb has rarely practiced, either, and Carmody said the only real solution now is for Cobb to rest. Carmody estimated that the sophomore may return in "a week, 10 days or two weeks."

And center Luka Mirkovic most likely is out for this week's games against Nebraska Thursday at Welsh-Ryan and at Illinois on Sunday. Mirkovic has a swollen left ankle.

"Sometimes [a swollen ankle] looks bad and you can still go," Carmody said. "I hope its OK and I'll find out later [Monday], but my guess is no."

Can Northwestern's bench get any more depleted?

Before the Wildcats tipped off with Purdue Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, word leaked out that center Luka Mirkovic was day-to-day with an injured ankle.

But the bigger news was about football. Former five-star wide receiver Kyle Prater, a Proviso West product and a transfer from USC, committed to Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats Saturday. Prater had said that he wanted to leave USC to be closer to his family in west suburban Maywood.

The 6-5 Prater had said he was also thinking of Illinois and Wisconsin, but last week told the Sun-Times in a phone interview that he had only scheduled one official visit: and that was to Northwestern.

Drew Crawford readies for chance at redemption

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Northwestern hosts Purdue Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 3 p.m. It will be a chance for the Wildcats to forget about two 20-plus point losses at Wisconsin and at Minnesota, with the loss against the Golden Gophers probably the tougher one to swallow. The Wildcats missed their first 14 shots and shot 36 percent.

"That night you try to forget about it, which is nearly impossible to do, because the whole plane ride home and when you go to sleep you think about how terribly you played and the next couple days you watch the film and break down and learn what you can do to improve," Drew Crawford said.

After watching the Minnesota film, Crawford said the Wildcats didn't make good shots -- hence the horrible field goal percentage -- and their defense wasn't all that bad. NU wasn't taking the best shots and got off to a slow start.

That has to change against the Boilermakers and hopefully the Wildcats' leading scorer, John Shurna, will be able to take a breather here and there. Shurna has, at times, struggled in the second half.

"I haven't really noticed John being any more tired than he usually is," Crawford said. "But playing as many minutes as he does, you get tired at the end of the game. He does have a more important scoring role this year than he did last year and we rely on him to score.

"But coach Carmody wants us on the court and we have to deliver even when we're winded."

Bill Carmody isn't that much of an RPI fan

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Northwestern's RPI this week stands at 36. If the Wildcats were to get into the NCAA tournament it would probably be because of their RPI -- or if they win the Big Ten tournament in March.

But NU coach Bill Carmody isn't really a fan of the RPI. He was asked Monday about Murray State and whether or not they should get a high seed in the tournament, since the No. 11 Racers are the last team in college basketball with an undefeated record (20-0). Murray State's RPI is 33.

"I had some Princeton teams that had pretty good records and one was seventh in the country in the second-to-last poll [in 1998]," Carmody said. "We had a horrible seed and were not treated with much repsect. Things have changed in a half dozen years. Maybe people don't give them a chance with their schedule and maybe their RPI drops.

"The whole RPI thing is really outdated and wrong. I hope -- for all teams -- if they deserve [a high tournament seed] they get what they deserve. Teams should get what they deserve."

It was a pretty bad afternoon Sunday for the Wildcats in Minnesota, where they dropped their contest to the Golden Gophers 75-52. NU missed its first 14 shots and went on to shoot only 30 percent (9 of 30) from the field in the first half and a paltry 32.7 percent (18 of 55) for the game. It was the second consecutive loss for the Wildcats and the second in a row where the 'Cats lost by at least 20.

"We had a rough night last night at Minnesota and we missed our first 14 shots, and I don't know if that's really ever happened," coach Bill Carmody said Monday. "Our first few shots were layups and then there were some blocked shots, then we had a wide open three-pointer in the corner and another missed layup and more blocked shots. . ."

If there can be any good news out of that loss it is that guard Alex Marcotullio returned after suffering a concussion Jan. 14 against Michigan State. Marcotullio came off the bench and went 4 of 8 from the field, scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists. Besides John Shurna (21 points), Marcotullio was the most productive Wildcat.

But Carmody wants to see more sharing from his players. The Wildcats had only 12 assists and Carmody said he wants to see at least 15-20 per game.

With NU's next game not until Saturday at Welsh-Ryan against Purdue, Carmody will have plenty of time to drill the concept of sharing into his players. Carmody said the team is taking Monday off and will get back to work in earnest on Tuesday.

What Joe Paterno meant to Pat Fitzgerald

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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is the type of guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and so it went when he spoke of his admiration for Penn State coach Joe Paterno. Paterno won his 400th game against the Wildcats in 2010 in State College, Pa. and Paterno tied the all-time record for Division I victories against the Wildcats this past October -- right before Jerry Sandusky was arrested. And it was at that October game at Ryan Field, with Paterno sitting up in the press box that the 85-year old coach asked to meet Fitzgerald's three boys during halftime. It was a moment that Fitzgerald treasured, even though his boys may not have understood the impact of it yet.

Paterno always had a place in Fitzgerald's heart and vice versa. After that 400th victory in State College the two huddled together, head to head, but Fitzgerald never divulged what Paterno told him. "I'd rather keep that between us," he said at the time.

Upon Paterno's death Sunday morning, Fitzgerald released this statement:

"Coach Paterno poured his heart and soul into a football program and university, helping countless young men reach their dreams and goals on the football field before moving on to successful careers and lives as adults. It's hard to fathom the impact that coach Paterno has had on college football and at Penn State."

Former Wildcat golfer David Lipsky wins Asian Q School

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Northwestern 2011 graduate David Lipsky shot a final round four-under 68 to win the Asian Tour Qualifying School tournament Saturday in Thailand.

Lipsky, a 2010 Big Ten individual golf champion, earned his Asian Tour card for the 2012 season.

Lipsky's victory is impressive. He beat out a record field of 599 golfers and was one of 444 golfers to sign up for the first round of Q school, held in Hua Hin, Thailand Jan. 11-14.

The highlight of the tournament for Lipsky was probably receiving a tweet from fellow Wildcat golfer Luke Donald, who wished him the best of luck.

Vince Browne, Bryce McNaul to play in NFLPA game

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Northwestern seniors Vince Browne and Bryce McNaul will be playing in the inaugural AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Browne, a defensive end, finished the season fourth all-time on the Wildcats' list for career pass sacks with 19. McNaul finished his season with 76 tackles.

According to bigcatcountry.com, a website devoted to Jacksonville Jaguars news, McNaul has impressed during the past three days of practices. McNaul knows his position to make plays against large tight ends and fights for the ball, the website said.

Northwestern can't get same magic in Madison

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Wisconsin did it again.

The Badgers beat Northwestern at the Kohl Center in Madison 77-57 Wednesday night, extending Wisconsin's winning streak over the Wildcats in Madison to 14.

It was enough to make even the most die-hard NU fan cringe, as the Wildcats were down to only seven scholarship players and two walk-ons. Guard Alex Marcotullio (concussion) didn't even make the trip and guard JerShon Cobb (hip tendonitis) is still sitting out.

It was almost funny how coach Bill Carmody adressed that depth issue after the game. It seemed like he was talking directly to his detractors and those who have been critical of him as of late.

"I always play seven guys anyway," Carmody said. "People always bitch to me about that. I'm used to playing only seven, I just wish sometimes it was a different seven."

Even before the Michigan State game, Carmody acknowledged that John Shurna gets tired by the second half. Maybe that's a reason for his decreased production in that half? It happened again Wednesday night. Shurna scored 12 in the first half only to score seven in the second half. Carmody said he needs to give Shurna and Drew Crawford a break.

A defensive switch from man to zone at halftime -- where the Wildcats trailed only by two -- didn't seem to matter and it almost freed up Wisconsin's outside shooters. Badger point guard Jordan Taylor knocked down three consecutive three-pointers (and it seemed like no one was even guarding him) and -- just to be on the safe side -- Josh Gasser sank one, too. It was a big run that ended with Wisconsin leading 50-38 at the 15 minute mark.

And that was all NU wrote.

Alex Marcotullio stays home, JerShon Cobb to sit

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Alex Marcotullio is still feeling the effects of a concussion suffered Saturday against Michigan State. So much so that the junior did not make the trip to Madison with the rest of the Wildcats for Wednesday night's game with the Badgers.
And JerShon Cobb is still hampered by his hip tendonitis. Although NU trainers made Cobb available tonight, Cobb is not in uniform.

Even though the Big Ten season is only a third of the way through. Wildcats coach Bill Carmody agrees with Illinois coach Bruce Weber that it is a little crazy how no one team has distanced itself yet as the favorite.

Michigan State and Illinois are tied for the top in the Big Ten with 4-1 records, while Ohio State and Michigan are next at 4-2. And then there's a logjam in the middle with Purdue at 3-2 and Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa are all tied at 3-3.

"It seems like [Big Ten teams] are like the Packers: they're invincible, yet they're not, like Indiana" Carmody said. "By now we should know who the best team is. You do have to look at where the games are played, but the home court isn't as strong a factor as it was in year's past."

On the injury front:

Alex Marcotullio will not play at Wisconsin Wednesday night as he heals from a concussion. Marcotullio, who has also battled a left big toe injury, suffered the concussion during a free-throw attempt in the first half Saturday against Michigan State.

Guard JerShon Cobb, who has tendonitis in his left hip, is available to play against the Badgers, but team officials said it is not know how much time Cobb would get.

Alex Marcotullio, JerShon Cobb injury update

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Two days after Northwestern's stunning 81-74 victory over then-No. 6 Michigan State at Welsh-Ryan Arena, there are still some concerns with Wildcat injuries.

Coach Bill Carmody said Monday that guard JerShon Cobb could play at Wisconsin Wednesday night and is available if need be, but is cautious about using the sophomore. Cobb has tendonitis in his left hip, the same hip he had surgery on in the offseason. Carmody isn't sure if the tendonitis is related to the surgery, but it really doesn't matter if Cobb is not 100 percent.

"I'm not sure how much he can help," Carmody said. "If we don't use him [at Wisconsin], then we'll rest him to see if he can come back in the next few weeks.

Tendonitis can happen anytime with the knees, ankles, Achilles [tendon] or hips. It's part of the whole thing. Sometimes you can push through it, and sometimes not."

And then there's junior guard Alex Marcotullio. The kid has had a rough go this season, what with his left big toe injury that has hampered him since late October and now he has an concussion suffered against the Spartans. Carmody said Marcotullio got concussed in the first half during a free throw attempt. Marcotullio was in the third spot on the foul line and got "whacked" by a Michigan State player. Marcotullio finished the half, but a minute before the Wildcats took the floor for the second half Carmody found out from the school's trainers that Marcotullio was a no-go for the second half. Carmody said he isn't sure if Marcotullio can play Wednesday in Madison.

"He hasn't seen the trainer yet [Monday] so we have to wait and see," Carmody said.

The Wildcats are going to rely on Marcotullio a lot in the next few weeks as NU makes it tournament push. Carmody said Marcotullio can play the point but he's also a great passer and can hit the open shot, especially from three-point range -- and that is where he does the most damage. 

How can a team shoot 65 percent from the field and lose?

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has a few explainations.

"We had rebounds and they took them from us three different times [on NU's three offensive rebounds] and scored," Izzo said. "The lack of experience [on the perimeter] is going to catch us sometimes and it caught us today a little bit. We shot 65 percent in the first half and 71 percent from the three and we're behind. And that just means our defense wasn't good enough."

The Spartans, down by two at halftime, came out and pulled a Northwestern in the second half and shot only 34.4 percent. And why would I say "pulled a Northwestern"? Because that's what the Wildcats had been doing for part of this Big Ten season -- they've been coming out hot in one half and cold in another.

But, thankfully, Saturday against the No. 6 Spartans, the Wildcats were able to put together two cohesive halves and beat a top 10 team on their own floor, 81-74.

NU shot 46.4 percent in the first half and 54.2 percent in the second.

"When we are running that offense fluid, we are tough to beat," said Wildcats forward Drew Crawford, who scored 20 points despite not being 100 percent and struggling with a stomach virus.

"It feels great," Crawford continued. "We were really upset about the last two losses [Illinois and No. 13 Michigan], especially considering we should have won both of those games and we knew we were capable of winning them and we couldn't make plays down the stretch. That was something we really focused on."

The Wildcats led by double digits 12 times and after John Shurna made the second of two free throws, NU led by its biggest margin of 12. The Spartans never led in the second half.

John Shurna's post play and Reggie Hearn's analysis

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When was the last time John Shurna played center before Wednesday night at Michigan?

How about when he was in high school at Glenbard West and Wildcat defensive lineman Kevin Watt played alongside him on the Hilltoppers basketball team.

"I was a post player in high school throughout and it was Kevin Watt and I; we were the two big men," Shurna said.

Shurna went up against Jordan Morgan at Michigan Wednesday, in a tough 66-64 overtime loss in Ann Arbor.

"I just made sure I constantly moved and just [kept] our offense flowing. Obviously there are areas to work on and rebounding is a big key for us."

* I asked junior guard Reggie Hearn today why the Wildcats are having so many issues staying consistent from one half to another. It happened against Illinois Jan. 4, when NU seemed to hang on and almost dominate the Illini (Shurna scored 17 in the first half and then only had a three-pointer in the second half; NU lost by a point), and the same problem hit NU again against Michigan. Consistency is key.

"I think maybe we get stagnant on our offense. I don't know if it's due to fatigue in the second half, but I should give credit to the [opposing team], because maybe they're doing some defensive things that cause us to struggle.

"[Saturday] is a home game and this is our court and we have to protect it."

Making the case for Prater to play at Northwestern

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Will Kyle Prater, a former five-star wide receiver, become a Northwestern Wildcat?

Not sure yet, but if you can infer anything by talking to his high school coach, Famous Hulbert from Proviso West, the signs might all point to purple.

The 6-5 Prater announced Monday that he was leaving USC, intending to transfer closer to home. He named Illinois, Wisconsin and NU as his top three. And if Pat Fitzgerald can get Prater -- almost three years after Fitzgerald first offered when Prater was a senior at West -- then it would be the second high-profile player Fitzgerald has nabbed in the past week. On Saturday, Fitzgerald got a verbal commitment from Centerville, Ohio linebacker/defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, a four-star recruit according to Scout.com.

Hulbert, himself an Illinois grad who played football for the Illini in the mid-1990s, said he's been helping the family and has talked to "every football school in Illinois that offers a full football scholarship."

Hulbert predicts Prater may make a decision in the next few days, but he stresses that this shouldn't be turned into a media circus. Prater may take more official visits next weekend, Hulbert said. And, for the record, Evanston is at least a 50-minute drive from his family home in Maywood. Closer than the two-hour plus drive from Maywood to either Champaign or Madison, Wis.

"Kyle's from a hard working, close-knit family and it's in the best interests of his family for him to come home," Hulbert said.

Sounds like an endorsement for Evanston if you ask me.

Will Kyle Prater become a Wildcat?

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The most heralded athletic prospect to ever come out of Proviso West High School might become a Northwestern Wildcat after all.

Kyle Prater, a wide receiver who was a five-star recruit his senior year at West, is leaving USC and wants to transfer to either Northwestern, Illinois or Wisconsin.

The 6-5 Prater had been hampered by injuries when he was a Trojan. He redshirted his freshman year with injuries to his thumb and hand, and this season had only one catch while battling hip and hamstring issues.

The more interesting aspect of Prater's football life came during his junior and senior years at West. He was the only football recruit in the school's history to get an offer from every Big Ten school (hello, Northwestern) and from Stanford. For a high school known for its basketball talent, Prater's offers and his talent put the Hillside school on the map.

He announced his decision to attend USC at a press conference in the school's Little Theater in September 2009, Prater's senior year. It seemed more like a pep rally than a news conference, with then-principal Alexis Wallace making an inspiring speech and the Panthers cheerleaders and band performing. Prater doned a USC cap to make his decision public, chosing the Trojans over Notre Dame, Illinois (the alma mater of Proviso West football coach Famous Hulbert), Oklahoma and Tennessee.

But a week or so later, Prater changed his mind and said he was giving the Trojans a "soft" commitment and said he was going to take at least three other official visits. Then he backpedaled again in December and said he was 100 percent sure on USC.

The Kyle-Prater-to-USC saga changed again in January 2010 when he announced on NBC during the U.S. Army All-Amercian Bowl that he was reopening his recruitment, since head coach Pete Carroll was going to leave USC to coach the Seattle Seahawks. Prater graduated from West early, in January, so he had to hurry up and find another school.

But, again, he went back to the Trojans.

And Monday we found out he wants to leave Los Angeles.

So here we find ourselves again -- waiting for Kyle to decide where he's going.

Lamenting what could have been for Persa, Wildcats

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           Dan Persa deserved way better than what he got New Year's Eve at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

            Even though the Northwestern quarterback ended his college career as the NCAA's all-time leader in pass completion percentage, Persa deserved to go out a winner. Instead, the Wildcats lost to Texas A&M 33-22 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl -- a record ninth consecutive bowl defeat.

            And next year if the Wildcats go to a bowl game, they can trot out a stuffed monkey wearing a No. 64 jersey representing 64 years since NU last won a bowl game: the 1949 Rose Bowl.

            "We failed in that regard and we let everybody down and we know it," Persa said. "But, hopefully, the foundation of hard work we laid and that work ethic will show up in the offseason and in the kids that are still around, and it will push this team over the hump."

            Persa deserved to win maybe more than most of his teammates and possbily more than his fellow seniors, who became the program's all-time winningest class this season, and who started their college careers with the sudden and tragic death of coach Randy Walker punching them in the face back in the summer of 2006.

            Yes, Persa should have won. It would have been an emotional way for him to go out, both with the NCAA record and that elusive bowl victory. The 6-1, 210-pounder from Bethlehem, Pa., who was nicknamed Iron Cat for his strength in the weight room, overcame the doubters his junior year when he took over for the graduated Mike Kafka -- only to have a spectacular season end with a ruptured Achilles tendon while throwing the winning touchdown against Iowa.

            He started his final season with Heisman hopes, as the NU marketing and athletic departments spearheaded the Persa Strong campaign. But Persa Strong proved to be Persa Human and he couldn't start the season's first three games because he wasn't fully healed.

            Then Persa helped turn around a dismal season where the Wildcats played far below expectations and weathered a five game losing streak. Fortunes turned around Halloween weekend when the Wildcats started a four-game winning streak that included an upset at Nebraska and a bowl-eligible sixth victory over Minnesota.

            But the Aggies were just too much and the Wildcats' defense couldn't hold down much of the A&M offense.

            "We instilled in the younger guys that this has to be the end of [the losing streak]," senior offensive lineman Al Netter said. "They need to work harder in the offseason and do something different, because what we're doing isn't working and the monkey is still on our backs. We've been looking at a material object all week [to remember] that we haven't won a bowl game in 63 years."

            If Kain Colter is to be Persa's successor next season -- and there is no doubt that he will be -- the defense has to improve and the NU coaching staff will need to try and recruit better players. They took a first step in that regard over the weekend, when they received a verbal commitment from four-star linebacker/defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo of Centerville, Ohio. According to Scout.com, this is the Wildcats' biggest recruit in recent memory.

            Understandably, the Wildcats are handcuffed to an extent by the school's academic standards, but besides trying to get more blue-chippers on defense maybe there needs to be a shakeup schematically. Or maybe if the Wildcats are bowl-eligible next year there need to be changes to their bowl prep.

            Anything to get rid of that stuffed monkey.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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