This was the year.
The year Northwestern was going to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. As the 'Cats came off of their winningest season in school history all the pieces were there -- kind of.
Four starters were back, including an ever-improving John Shurna whose ability to drive inside and be stingy was at an all-time high, 6-11 senior big man Luka Mirkovic and junior swingman Drew Crawford, but there was one big question mark: point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson was gone. The team's senior leader had departed for Germany and there were no returning natural PGs on the roster.
It was like, a really big question mark. Like, people were all kinds of concerned that their team might go another 70 years without an invitation to that tournament in the sky. Head coach Bill Carmody included.
"The big thing is losing Mike," Carmody told USA Today. "He's sort of ran things for a few years here. He got us into the offense seamlessly. When people put the pressure on, he could handle it."
Bloggers nervously wrote about which freshman might to try to replace Thompson (Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewski were the incoming choices), and the Daily Northwestern bemoaned the loss of "the heart of Northwestern's program."
Last season Thompson logged an assist in 24.6 percent of his possessions and a turnover in 14.1 percent for an assist to turnover ratio of 2.3 -- the 52nd best A/T ratio in the nation.
Enter: Dave Sobolewski and NU's Princeton offense.
Under the Princeton scheme, which Carmody learned as a long-time assistant and head coach at Princeton until 2000, motion is emphasized while conventional player positions are de-emphasized. The point guard position is less important in this offense, because there are generally three or four players moving the ball around the back court equally and continually. In short, the Princeton offense makes PGs, even short ones (Thompson was 5-10), look great.
One hallmark of Princeton teams is a low turnover rate. The Wildcats finished fifth nationally last season with a turnover in 15.7 percent of their possessions.
Still, it's nice to have a spark that can threaten from the perimeter. That requires talent like Thompson developed over four years in the Princeton system. Sobolewski, it seems, has that talent. Already in his six starts at point he has a decent assist rate (21.8%) and turnover rate (14.2%) that rival Thompson's final season, and a spunky 3.4 A/T ratio.
He brings sparks too: Sobolewski either scored or assisted on six of NU's first seven field goals in their 63-58 win over Stony Brook Friday.
In last night's 76-60 win over Georgia Tech, Sobolewski put up six assists and just one turnover, and fed Shurna for another big 25-point night or the senior in the 69-possession quashing.
The 'Cats have now won six straight to remain undefeated, have the fourth-best turnover rate in the nation (13.7 percent) and are favored by Pomeroy to beat ranked Baylor on Sunday.
It's going to be okay, Chicago. Sobolewski's got it.