If this is going to be the season Northwestern finally makes the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, then the Wildcats will have to accomplish that feat without one of their top returning players.
Junior guard JerShon Cobb, a former top 100 recruit, has been suspended for the entire 2012-13 season for a violation of undisclosed team rules, the school announced Friday. Cobb remains enrolled in classes and is expected to stay with the program.
"There are standards that each student-athlete is expected to uphold," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said in a statement. "JerShon has our complete support as he works to fulfill those expectations and we look forward to having him rejoin the program in a full capacity in the future."
Although Northwestern has ample depth at wing with leading scorer Drew Crawford, ex-walk-on Reggie Hearn and sharp-shooting Alex Marcotullio, the loss of Cobb will still be a blow.
Bothered by nagging injuries much of last season, Cobb came alive in March, averaging 16 points during the final four games of the season. He was still Northwestern's fifth-leading scorer last season despite the injuries and when healthy he is one of the few players on the roster who can create his own offense.
The loss of Cobb won't help Northwestern's hopes of finally ending the infamous streak this season, but it certainly isn't a death blow. Before Cobb's suspension, the Wildcats needed an unproven frontcourt to step up to aid a deep, talented backcourt. Even without Cobb, the play of the frontcourt is still probably what will determine Northwestern's NCAA tournament hopes.