Northwestern's basketball team has some serious problems. They are 0-4 in the Big Ten and are gaining a reputation, at least for those who pay attention, as habitual lead blowers. So the question is how can this team get fixed or are they doomed to repeat last year’s disastrous 1-17 Big Ten season. Some have called for Bill Carmody to be fired immediately, but as others have pointed out there isn’t a lot of benefit to firing the coach in the middle of the season. What we have to do instead is search for solutions that this group of players and coaches can implement, because they are the only ones we have.
Solution 1: Stay Aggressive with the Lead
When NU has the lead they tend to run down the shot clock. This in principle is fine as running down the shot clock is part of NU’s system. However, the way they go about this is different once they have the lead. They go into what I like to call “Turtle Basketball” which means they stand around and make slow passes for 30 seconds, and then somebody tries to drive or throw up a shot with 5 seconds on the shot clock. This is totally different from the fast paced running of the PO with sharp passing which NU uses to get good shots and big leads. When you run the PO right, you might not get a shot until 5 on the shot clock, but you will eventually get a good shot. That’s what NU needs to get with the lead.
Solution 2: Don’t play a lineup which features multiple guys who can’t score
I like Jeremy Nash, Jeff Ryan, and Sterling Williams, I really do. However, they can’t play at the same time. That’s insane. In fact, two of them probably shouldn’t play at the same time. During the Purdue game all three were on the court at the same time and on one possession they each passed up an open shot. Then, NU settled for a bail out shot by Kevin Coble. It might be fine if Ryan passes up a shot and then the ball goes to Coble, but you can’t expect to win if Ryan passes up an open shot, then Nash does, then Williams does. Athletic players are nice, but the game is basketball. The object of the sport is to put the ball in the basket. When they start playing runandjumpball then a lineup with these three guys will be useful.
Solution 3: Switch the starting lineup based on who you play
Bill Carmody did start different players in the second half of the Purdue game so maybe he is thinking about this. Anyhow, some people on message boards and sitting behind me want to see less of Kyle Rowley. Against certain teams I agree. However, there are teams in the Big Ten which Rowley needs to play against. Wisconsin wasn’t one of them. Neither was Purdue. However, against Michigan State he is decent matchup because Izzo’s guys are just big and not super athletic like JaJuan Johnson. Minnesota should also be a favorable matchup for Rowley, but I fear Carmody might not play.
Solution 4: Keep Using John Shurna
John Shurna might lead college basketball in getting his shot blocked. However, he isn’t scared. Northwestern’s roster features too many guys who get intimidated by their opponents. Shurna doesn’t. If he struggles, well, he is a freshman. Sometimes he’ll do stupid stuff. However, you win with guys who aren’t intimidated and John Shurna is one of the only players who NU has that looks like he has no fear.
Solution 5: Look inside and decide you have something to prove
Right now the Wildcats have something to prove. Not to me, not to you, not to the media, or the rest of the Big Ten, but to themselves. They need to prove what kind of team they are. Are they the team who can’t hold a lead and sits at 0-4 in the Big Ten or are they the team that beat up Florida State and DePaul? It’s time for them to decide.
Solution 6: Stop missing layups and free throws.
If you play major college basketball you should be able to make a layup. Free throws, well, they are called "free" throws. At one point in the history of basketball that name had meaning. Now, not so much.