For a guy who plays for a star-crossed program that famously has never made the NCAA tournament and until recently had seldom even come close, Northwestern star John Shurna isn't lacking for bravado.
Shurna told the Chicago Tribune his goals for his upcoming senior season recently, and to say the least he's not leaving himself or his teammates much wiggle room.
"It's tournament or bust," he said. "If we don't make it, I'll feel like my career here would be a failure."
Few Northwestern players have made proclamations in such strong words in the past, but Shurna has more reason to be confident than most. In addition to making the NIT in each of Shurna's first three seasons in Evanston, the Wildcats return four starters next season including Shurna, wing Drew Crawford and center Luka Mirkovic.
The biggest question facing Northwestern is how they will replace point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson, the Wildcats' second-leading scorer and the maestro of their Princeton offense. Veteran 3-point marksman Alex Marcotullio is the most likely choice, but promising sophomore JerShon Cobb could see some playing time at point guard, as could incoming freshmen David Sobolewski and Tre Demps.
Shurna bypassed the chance to be a second-round pick in last month's draft to return to Northwestern and take one final shot at being part of the team that ended the school's NCAA tournament drought.
The ankle injury that hampered him much of last season is gone. The Big Ten appears a bit weaker behind Ohio State than it did a year ago at this time. And Shurna is focused on becoming more aggressive than he's been his first three years.
Will that be enough? Early mock brackets have the Wildcats among the field of 68, but we'll have to wait until March to see if they can make that goal a reality.