Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Flashback: Class of 2009

Craig Moore has hit big shots for Northwestern since his freshman year (AP Photo).

When a senior class prepares to play its final games you always start to wonder what people will remember as their legacy. As Craig Moore, Sterling Williams, Marlon Day, and Pat Houlihan wrap up their careers at Northwestern it seems their legacy will be the collection of long term losing streaks they busted apart this season. Their win over Michigan State was the first in East Lansing since 1984 and the first ever at the Breslin Center. The win over Ohio State was the first anywhere since 1998. The win over Indiana was the first in Bloomington since 1968 and the first ever at Assembly Hall. A postseason appearance, which can essentially be clinched with a win over Iowa Saturday, will be the first since 1999. In addition, if Northwestern can beat Ohio State next week it will be their first win in Columbus since 1977 and their first in Value City Arena ever.

Looking back at this class over the last four years, obviously Craig Moore is the guy who has played the biggest role on the court, but the contributions of his classmates can’t be discounted either. Great respect has to go to Pat Houlihan who as a four year walkon has no doubt worked hard in practice everyday and contributed to the success of Northwestern’s program behind the scenes. The same can be said of Marlon Day who joined the Wildcats last season after transferring to Northwestern from Purdue. Thanks to his football background Day no doubt brought a much needed physical to NU’s practices. Guys like Houlihan and Day often fly under the radar for must fans and observers because they rarely ever appear on the floor. Nevertheless, they are key factors in the success of a team because they make their teammates better every day.

This season Sterling Williams’s contributions have been more similar to Houlihan and Day’s than what he did his first three seasons. After starting 64 games and playing on average 21.3 minutes per game in his first three years, Sterling Williams has not started a single contest this season and has player sparingly. In the win over Indiana, Williams played only the final minute of the contest. Despite this reduction in his role, Williams always seems to be a leader on the sidelines and is ready whenever Head Coach Bill Carmody calls on him. We also cannot forget Sterling has had some very solid games in his years at NU. What was probably Sterling’s best game occurred during his redshirt freshman season. When Northwestern went into Williams Arena and upset Minnesota Williams led the ‘Cats with 15 points and 6 assists. A year later, he came off the bench in a game against top ranked Ohio State and hit a career high 3 three pointers during a contest in which an undermanned NU squad battled the Buckeyes into the game’s final minutes. Perhaps even more important than Sterling’s contributions on the court are his contributions off. He had a 4.0 GPA at Northwestern and graduated last spring with a degree in Political Science. With that 4.0 GPA, Sterling has been Academic All-Big Ten for three straight years. I have no doubt Sterling’s graduate school performance will allow him to add a fourth straight year of Academic All-Big Ten honors at the end of this season. Another key point about Sterling’s career at Northwestern is the fact he was the first Chicago Public League recruit to enter NU in almost two decades. Getting Williams in an NU uniform seemed to reconnect the Wildcats with one of the best high school hoops leagues in the nation. He paved the way for Michael Thompson and I suspect we will see several more CPL guys at NU in the near future.

Finally, we come to Craig Moore. Moore will leave Northwestern with a number of records (three pointers made and attempted), but I suspect he will be most proud of what his team has accomplished this year. If Northwestern can get into the postseason and make a run, it will be a tribute to the effort and tenacity with which Moore plays. When he plays well, Northwestern plays well. Although I have great hopes for NU’s future guards Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio, it will be tough to replace Moore. In games against Indiana and Wisconsin, Moore hit huge free throws down the stretch. In the streak busting wins at MSU and Indiana, Moore hit huge shots. In the win over Ohio State, Moore had one of the best shooting games of the season. He also scored 31 points at Brown this season which ties him with teammate Kevin Coble for the most by a Wildcat this season. Looking back at Moore’s career, he was the only Wildcat to start every Big Ten game during his freshman season. During that year, Moore made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team and posted a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. He also hit one of his career’s most clutch shots when he knocked down a three with 0.9 seconds left to send NU to overtime at Purdue. Moore’s sophomore year was rough, but he did help NU get a win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge when he knocked down 7 threes against Miami. Moore bettered that school record mark of 7 threes with 8 as a junior when NU upset Michigan in Ann Arbor. He set the record again this year with 9 in that Brown game. This season I believe Moore’s best moment was a key three in the win at Michigan State. Although he’d struggled in the game, Moore didn’t hesitate to take a deep three when Michigan State momentarily gained the lead in the second half. That three put NU back on top and seemed to show Michigan State this NU wasn’t like any other they’d faced. Moore also is the front runner in my mind for shot of the year thanks to his circus layup against Ohio State which had Thad Matta turning redder than his team’s uniforms. Although Saturday is the last scheduled game for Craig Moore at Welsh-Ryan Arena, his classmates and he might be back at Welsh-Ryan in the postseason. This group certainly deserves the honor of such an opportunity.

No comments: