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Northwestern basketball focused on reaching NCAA tournament for first time

Northwestern 's Drew Crawford (1) dunks ball against Iowduring second half an NCAA college basketball game Thursday Feb. 9 2012

Northwestern 's Drew Crawford (1) dunks the ball against Iowa during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern defeated Iowa 83-64. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:20AM

Forward John Shurna left Northwestern after last season as its all-time leading scorer (2,038 points) and the first Wildcats player to lead the Big Ten in scoring in a half-century.

Yet some have higher hopes for NU this season, even with Shurna graduated and even in a conference being ranked by many as the best in the country. The reason might be as simple as four being better than one.

‘‘We lost a really good kid in John, but it will come down to the four guys who played a lot last year,’’ Wildcats coach Bill Car-
mody said. ‘‘All four of them are excited and playing well and getting down to business.’’

The four are seniors Drew Crawford, Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn and sophomore Dave Sobolewski. Their singular goal is to end NU’s historic absence from the NCAA tournament.

‘‘There’s a little bit of a sense of urgency, but it’s more translating into hunger, I think, for Alex, Reggie and myself,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘I think we’re really just hungry for this year to start, especially being our last year. We really want to succeed.

‘‘We have a lot of physical guys who can bang on the inside, and hopefully that will be a big step.’’

In many ways, the 6-5 Crawford is the centerpiece. He averaged 15.3 points and 4.3 rebounds and was named a third-team all-conference selection last season. He also was a second-team Academic All-American.

‘‘He may have deferred to John a bit last year, and I may have called John’s number more than Drew’s, but he’s certainly a terrific player, and I think he’s going to have a breakout year,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘He’s been a great leader for us who could have a real great year.’’

Marcotullio, Hearn and Sobo-
lewski will be familiar options around Crawford, but a key
addition will be 6-8 senior transfer Jared Swopshire, who played on Louisville’s Final Four team last season. Swopshire had a year of eligibility remaining after missing the 2010-11 season with a groin injury that required surgery. He is enrolled in grad school.

‘‘He’s new to our program, but he’s not a rookie,’’ Carmody said of Swopshire, who averaged 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 39 games last season. ‘‘He hasn’t had any problem picking up our game. He’s a good person, a strong kid and a good influence on our younger guys.’’

In reserve, Carmody has 6-9 Nikola Cerina, who sat out last season after transferring from TCU; redshirt freshman Tre Demps, a guard who missed most of last season because of injury; and four true freshmen, including 7-foot Alex Olah and 6-10 Aaron Liberman, who ranked fifth in the nation in blocked shots last season.

Missing, however, will be 6-5
junior JerShon Cobb, who was suspended for the season for violating team policy.

‘‘We thought we were deep last year, and then we had some injuries,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘We’re looking to get some of those big young guys into the mix.’’

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