Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coble quits, a BFD... no, seriously

Lake The Posts has a very good article about the surprising Kevin Coble departure, that in essence, begs him to reconsider over the next couple of months. If you haven't heard, well, I'm surprised that you are even reading this blog, but Coble, after spending his senior year out with a nasty foot injury, has opted for making sure that he can walk again rather than playing basketball for his final year of eligibility. Which isn't unreasonable, and hey, he's been at NU for years, right? Well, read Gary Parrish's take for a nice counter-point that says "if you came to school on scholarship... maybe you should feel some sort of obligation to play?" It's a fair point, but I can see the other side too- he was a good team-player for four years, and that's all that can be asked.
The motivations and timing with this announcement is all weird, though. The NU team is going on a trip to Italy before the season starts. Coble would probably be expected to go, and combine this with the fact that Carmody seems relatively unconcerned that Coble is quitting right now, one wonders if Coble just reacted against pressure to return before he felt ready. Andy Katz's talk with Carmody certainly seems to imply a "get in or get out" vibe to the affair. He's evidently a bit of a loner, and Coble has been rewarded in the national media for walking away from Basketball for putting his family's health before. I can't see Carmody trying to flush out Coble for team chemistry or anything- Thompson, Coble, and Shurna all started together two years ago in one of the better NU seasons. So who knows, maybe this could be temporary, and maybe Carmody even feels like Coble might be back later?

Along with Katz, The Only Colors and John Gasaway suggest that maybe this isn't such a big deal after all. NU returns 6 of their top 7 players from last season's 20-win team, the NCAA's are expanding, and John Shurna took over Kevin Coble's old role at the four-spot quite capably. However...

This is a big deal!
The Big Ten will be every bit as tough as last season, and this puts NU's NCAA hopes as a real question mark. The Wildcats, with Coble, were looking like they would be a solid at-large team. Without him, they simply won't be as good, and here's why:

1) Defense- both Gasaway & TOC touch on this, and as much as I hate to go against them, Coble's loss will be *really* felt here. Why? First, consider that the one starter lost was the one who really made the zone work, Jeremy Nash. Then think about the fact that Coble maintained a very decent block/steal percentage combo throughout his career, in 2009 for example, it was at 2.5% each- good for top 500 ranking on KenPom (which was still not quite as great as his 2007 year- 3.4%/3.5%). For example, in that huge 2009 win at MSU, Coble also snagged four steals. Nash & Coble combined to be very disruptive to opponents offenses in 2009, and that's totally gone now. Second, just two words- defensive rebounding. Off the bench NU has also lost Kyle Rowley, who despite his limited game and PT, was tall, broad, and the best defensive rebounder last season. You might be tempted to look at Coble's rebounding numbers from his last year and compare them to Shurna's in 2009, but don't! I'll explain below. Coble's rebounding numbers his first two years would've put him above Luka Mirkovic (and alongside Peljusic & Curletti) for the best defensive rebounder on last year's team. The reason his percentages fell in 2009...

2) Shurna + Coble = Good things. In 2008, NU was one of the worst teams that ever played in the Big Ten conference. They didn't get a single home win, and their only victory was a narrow escape at a rebuilding Michigan. In 2009, with one game left in the regular season, they were 17-11 and starting to dream of their first NCAA bid. What was the difference? Well, for one, the freshmen. Rowley & Mirkovic brought some height to middle that hadn't been seen in 2008, but I would argue that perhaps even more importantly was John Shurna's ability to start alongside Coble and allow him to stop playing in the paint and start looking for his shot. That fundamentally changed the way Carmody was able to maximize Coble's offensive talents, and that fundamentally changed the team with just a small cost to Coble's defensive numbers. If you doubt that Coble was really playing the three that year, just look at the MSU games. In game 1 at NU, Raymar Morgan was healthy and kept Coble under control in a predictable Spartan victory. In game 2 at MSU, Morgan was not healthy and Coble went for 31 in the NU win. A polished Shurna plus a returning Coble with an experienced center (Mirkovic), a top point guard (Juice Thompson), and young talented wing (Drew Crawford) had NU fans geeked for the coming season. Furthermore, in Big Ten road games, someone always picks up a couple of fouls. It wouldn't have been nearly as bad for NU if Shurna picks up a couple of cheap ones early as long as Coble was around.

3) NU needed Coble's explosiveness as well as his defense- As I hinted above, Shurna isn't as good of a defensive rebounder inside as Coble was in his first two years, and Coble was still posting a quite good defensive rebound percentage as well as solid steal & block percentages even while playing the three-spot. However, when you have a guy capable of dropping 30+ points on the conference's best teams on any given night, that tends to get the opposition's attention. Even when IU had Bracey Wright, Mike Davis' teams could run an offense that essentially ran around Marshall Strickland and DJ White (if only Bracey would wait to get his within the offense, but another that's story). The point is, if you have an explosive scorer AND an offense you're decent at running, then your team can be pretty tough to stop. If you have two explosive scorers- (and Shurna was *almost* there last season) then the defense starts panicking.

I don't know for sure that Coble would've replaced Nash's defense to a point where the defense actually got better for NU next year, but it wasn't an unlikely scenario. I do know for sure that NU would've been a really tough team to stop offensively if Coble and Shurna had been playing together again. Maybe it will be okay, maybe Alex Marcotullio, Jeff Ryan, and even Mike Capocci will bloom with the extra minutes that will result from Coble's absence. Maybe. But it's going to be a whole lot tougher for the Wildcats to finally break into the NCAA tournament.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Quick thoughts & short goodbye

I watched bits and pieces of the World Cup, rooting for the Oranje after the US went down, but evidently they played like punks in the championship. I guess I'm glad I didn't watch a repeat of Italy versus Brazil '94, but I'm happy that Spain proved a amazingly talented passing team can win it all.

I'm really looking forward to the Hoosier soccer season, I think Yeags'll have the Hoosiers turned around and winning 20 games -regularly- very soon.

Hoosier football and basketball next season... I'm not super-optimistic on either count. Don't get me wrong, I'm hoping for the best, but I'm expecting somewhere around .500 on both counts.

I thought the NBA's "LeDebacle" was best answered by Paul Rudd & Steve Carrell.

I'm going on hiatus with other my sports thoughts, at least in blog format, until my summer classes are over next month, at least. Too much going on for thoughtful(?) ramblings. Feel free to follow my twitter feed instead, altho' sports-commentary has historically been rather small part of commentary there.