You don't often get major Big Ten basketball news breaking in July. This qualifies: Northwestern's Kevin Coble has decided to end his college basketball career, foregoing a potential final season in purple and white. Coble missed all of last season after injuring his foot in preseason practice. He had averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game over the first three season of his career.
The Wildcats were only scheduled to lose one major contributor going into next season (Jeremy Nash). With Coble's return to the lineup, the team seemed primed to finally end its since-the-program-was-formed NCAA Tournament appearance drought. His departure, for whatever reason, strikes a significant blow to those hopes.
I'll take a somewhat contrarian position here, though, and say that Coble leaving doesn't necessarily spell doom for the Wildcats' 2011 postseason prospects. The team still returns 5 of the top 6 players from a team that won 20 games this past season. Michael Thompson, Drew Crawford, and John Shurna form a pretty potent offensive trio, with Alex Marcotullio (outside) and Luka Mirkovic (inside) as solid role players.
Further, as I've previously observed, the way Shurna blossomed this past season, he effectively replicated Coble's precise role and level of production in the offense. Having two talk, lanky forwards (both were listed at exactly 6'8", 210 pounds) who can score from all over the court would certainly be an asset, but how much would their roles overlap and end up negating each other? (Of course, the last time I invoked this line of thinking, I invoked it to argue that Northwestern wasn't an automatic lock for the NCAA Tournament. Still, you get my meaning.) If Shurna can continue to build on his breakout sophomore campaign, the rest of the team should be able to fill in nicely around him on offense.
Which brings me to a final point: Ultimately, Northwestern's success in 2011 will hinge on whether they can start to play effective defense more consistently. And, as good a player as Kevin Coble was, he was much more of an offensive threat than he was a defensive difference-maker.