Northwestern reported today that Kevin Coble injured his left foot in practice. The severity of the injury is unknown as he's scheduled to be further evaluated on Friday, but even that phrase doesn't sound good. Early reports from Spread Far the Fame say that Coble will be out 4-6 weeks.
Friday - coincidentally - is Northwestern's first game of the season against Northern Illinois University. What happens if Coble can't go?
First, Northwestern's Bill Carmody should immediately approach John Shurna and tell him that the Wildcats need him more than ever. Even though he's just a sophomore Shurna is the most gifted scorer on the Wildcats. He's Northwestern's second best scorer (behind Coble) and a guy that can create his own shot if things break down.
Secondly, Carmody needs to make sure the team doesn't panic. The Princeton offense relies on the chemistry and cohesiveness of five moving parts, not one or two main guys. Therein lies Northwestern's saving grace. The Wildcats don't need someone to score 15.5 points per game extra, they need everyone on the team to cumulatively pick up the slack.
Here are three ways that can happen.
1. Go really big. Northwestern has a lot of height on it's roster. Why not play more of that height together? A lineup of 6'11" Luka Mirkovic, 6'8" Ivan Peljusic, 6'8" John Shurna, 6'5" Drew Crawford and 5'10" Michael Thompson is still a huge lineup compared to most collegiate teams. The improvement that Shurna alone should make in rebounding from his freshman to sophomore season should offset the loss of Coble's 4.8 rebounds per game and the height should help overwhelm teams on the defensive end. This strategy also doesn't require any change in philosophy, this is certainly a lineup which could run the Princeton offense sets to perfection.
2. Give more minutes to Jeff Ryan. If you read Chicago College Basketball last season you know I love Jeff Ryan. The exhibition game against Robert Morris did nothing to change my opinion. He's a talented player who just got stuck in a strange rotation situation. Sure, moving Ryan back to a forward position would take away some of the depth on the perimeter, but he's a hard worker that has the ability to drive and generate his own shot if necessary. Ryan seems to have the potential to be one of those rare players whose efficiency goes up as he plays more minutes - take the Purdue game last season for example. Now's his chance to step up. Also, Coble's injury - no matter what - means that Thompson will likely be on the floor for a ton of minutes, so maybe depth at guard isn't so big a concern right now.
3. Drew Crawford grows up quickly. That foul trouble that Crawford suffered through against Robert Morris? It needs to be a thing of the past very quick. Northwestern needs Crawford to play a bigger role in the offense now. While he might've been able to hide in the background before Coble's injury, now Crawford is going to have to provide some points in addition to solid defense and rebounding. It's a heavy burden for a freshman, but one that Crawford - at least physically - seems prepared to handle.
What else can Northwestern do? Is the season sunk? Let me know in the comments.