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Spotlight falls on Cats as they seek to build case for breakthrough NCAA bid

Updated: April 10, 2012 11:32AM

Drew Crawford and John Shurna walked onto the floor at Welsh-Ryan Arena before practice Tuesday, and marveled at all the television cameras and assorted media types who wanted to talk to them about the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Shurna remarked.

“Wow, look at this,” Crawford said.

The Wildcats might have to get used to the extra media attention, at least until Sunday when the NCAA selection committee announces the bracket for this year’s tournament. Depending on how the Wildcats do in the Big Ten tournament will determine whether they get into the NCAAs for the first time.

While most of the basketball world is probably pulling for the Wildcats to get a bid, coach Bill Carmody said earlier this week that he isn’t going to lobby the selection committee on his team’s behalf.

“Conferences support their teams and I think that’s enough,” Carmody said. “I have these 18-year olds here and that’s enough for me without all the numbers. If we win a few games, then I feel good.”

The No. 7 seed Wildcats will face 10-seed Minnesota (18-13) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a first-round game Thursday (4:30, ESPN2, 720-AM). It is the fourth time in the last five years that the Wildcats have faced Minnesota in the opening round, and the third time this season the teams have met.

NU (18-12) split with the Golden Gophers, losing the first meeting 75-52 in Minneapolis on Jan. 22 and winning the second try 64-53 on Feb. 18 at Welsh-Ryan.

If the Wildcats can advance to the second round, they will play Michigan at 5:30 Friday.

“We’re going to have to continue to stay focused, even with the extra media attention,” said Shurna, who was named first team All-Big Ten on Monday. “We’ve been asked the tournament question since the start of the year and there’s a little more attention now, obviously, but we’re used to the question so that’s to our advantage.”

What is also to the Wildcats’ advantage is having sophomore guard JerShon Cobb back from hip, leg and lower-back pain. Cobb missed 12 games with those assorted aches and pains, stemming from offseason surgery on his left hip.

Cobb had his best game at Iowa on Saturday. In the Wildcats’ 70-66 victory, Cobb’s defense helped NU come back from a 15-point deficit and he scored a season-high 13 points with three assists and a steal.

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