Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Random News and Thoughts

First, it looks like Greg Paulus will be playing football at Syracuse next fall. Given the Orange’s poor play of late and the fact they have a new coach so all involved will be learning a new system I think there is a strong shot he will be the starting QB when NU takes on Syracuse next fall. I will be very interested to watch him play. If he pulls of the switch from hoops to football even halfway effectively I think it will be one of the best stories of next fall.

Second, here is an update on NU’s recruiting from Illinois Preps Bulls-eye. I am very pleased to NU involved with so many local players as it shows the locals are taking NU serious as a growing program. Hopefully, the increase in interest from local recruits will be mirrored in interest from local fans.

Finally, NU might get some more local interest as DePaul Men’s Basketball is a total mess. I find it very difficult to comprehend how far DePaul, once one of the nation’s best programs, has fallen. Part of me wonders if the real failure of DePaul started when they choose to fire Joey Meyer. Certainly DePaul was terrible in Meyer’s last year and certainly the Demons have had some decent coaches since Joey got the axe, but clearly none of them were as invested in DePaul or Chicago basketball as Meyer. Meyer and his legendary father, Ray, recruited Chicago hard. It was many of those Chicago players who served as the core for some of Coach Ray’s best teams. Now, it seems Chicago kids aren’t interested in DePaul. This is probably a great thing for NU because as we all know there is a ton of basketball talent at Chicago-area high schools. With DePaul as down in the dumps as they are, it is super-critical that Northwestern continue to build momentum in local recurring of both players and fans.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Football Game: How About Some Basketball?

I went to NU’s spring football game Saturday and I was once again pleased with what a great event NU put on. I just wish with the weather would have been nicer as I believe the crowd of 3,250 would have gone up about 2,000 or so with a little more sun. Still, I thought it was great NU kids, and really everyone, on the field and how Pat Fitzgerald stood out in the rain on Randy Walker Terrace to take pictures and chat with fans. Still, as this is a basketball blog I do have a small compliant. I realize spring football is spring football and that basketball doesn’t even have a schedule yet for next year, but I still think this is a missed opportunity. Clearly, there are fans of NU football who are not fans of NU basketball. Many of them might have been at the spring game. Considering the basketball team is coming off its must successful season in a decade I don’t think it would have hurt to at least brought out some merchandise or something to remind people of the program’s existence and the excitement for next year. Now, obviously we don’t want to take away from football, but I think don’t think Pat Fitzgerald would have minded if Bill Carmody, Tavaras Hardy, or a few hoops players hung out with him on Walker Terrace. Fitz has shown himself to be a tremendous supporter of all NU sports and I’m sure he wouldn’t have objected to giving up a little bit of his stage to help promote the improving basketball program. I hope in the future this is something Northwestern considers. NU does use football to promote basketball during the fall, but perhaps getting NU hoops on people’s mind the spring could be the way to increase awareness and make folks aware of what we all hope will be a very strong product come November.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

NU to play at NC State in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

As was expected by many, Northwestern will be on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at NC State. The Wolfpack finished 2008-2009 with similar numbers to the Wildcats. They were 16-14 overall and 6-10 in the ACC. Northwestern was 17-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten. On the face of it this looks like a good matchup for Northwestern because the Wildcats return four starters and four of their top five scorers. NC State on the other hand will lose their top three scorers. That said, NC State has singed a very solid recruiting class so the Woldpack should not be discounted. They will also have the advantage of playing at home. Northwestern is 3-7 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge overall, but all three wins have been in home contests. The Wildcats are 0-5 on the road in the Challenge, including a 74-49 drubbing at the hands of NC State in the 2002 event. If Northwestern can beat this ACC opponent on the road it will be a major signal of program improvement. Not as significant as the win at Michigan State last year, but significant nonetheless. It’s a shame we have to wait till December 1st to find out what happens.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thoughts on Greg Paulus and football

Perhaps the biggest college basketball story of the last week is actually a college football story. Duke point guard Greg Paulus is thinking about going to the University of Michigan to play football next fall as a QB for Michigan's football team. Now, anybody who paid even slight attention to college football last year knows that Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet didn't really get the job done at the QB position as Michigan finished 3-9. Still, is it at all realistic to think a basketball player could step in and save Rich Rod's program. Well, the Green Bay Packers thought enough about Paulus to work him out, but to be honest if I were him I'd consider going to college for a year to play in order work on skills I hand't used in 4 years. That said, although Paulus was a top rated QB in high school I'm not so sure he could help Michigan. I mean he hasn't played football in four years and well I think there are certain football positions where a great basketball athlete could step right in, I don't think QB is one of them. You can't just be an athletic guy and play QB, you have to be a skilled football player. I mean while there might be some similar skills in reading a defense and setting up a play in basketball and reading a defense in football I don't think the two tasks are that similar. If Michigan has to go with Paulus as QB I think it probably isn't a good sign.

As I read about Paulus I did also wonder if any NU players could play a role on the football field. Now, don't get more wrong, NU football is in a lot better shape than Michigan (that's a pretty nice fact), but I do think there is one spot where a couple basketball players could help. NU lost three starters at WR and Jeremy Nash was a great WR in high school. With his 6-3 size he would be NU's biggest target and anybody who saw Nash play this year knows he has athletic skills which are hard to match. Jeff Ryan might be another player who could line up at WR, but with his many injuries I'd wonder if he could hold up over a full year of football. Now, this obviously isn't going to happen, Coach Fitz has a good group of young WRs and Coach Carmody needs his guys in the fall to prepare for a very important year, but it is interesting to think about.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wildcat Roster Part 2: Alex Marcotullio

While local recruit Drew Crawford has received the majority of the press when focusing the Wildcats recruiting for 2009-10, the Wildcats have another guard signed who might make just as big an impact. 6-3 guard Alex Marcotullio from Warren, Michigan will also join the Wildcats next year and he might find himself competing with classmate Crawford and senior Jeremy Nash for a starting spot at Craig Moore’s vacant shooting guard spot. Most experts have highlighted the increased athleticism Nash or Crawford can bring to that spot on the court, but anybody who watched NU play this season knows just how critical Moore’s long range shooting was to the successes of the Princeton Offense. While Marcotullio might not ever be the best athlete in NU’s guard corps, he does bring shooting range out to 25-feet. That is something that not many players offer. Another key point noted when ESPN’s experts reviewed Marcotullio is the fact that Alex did play some point guard in high school. According to the report, Marcotullio is a smart player who makes the right pass and has a very high basketball IQ. Considering the number of times NU struggled without Michael Thompson on the court this season, perhaps this ability to play point is the most important contribution Marcotullio can make his freshman season. Honestly, I believe Michael Thompson is seriously underrated as a point guard. If he played at another program I think he’d get a ton of press for his ability to handle the ball, score on the drive, and shoot a very high percentage from three. However, it was also evident that Thompson was exhausted at times this season. Perhaps, that is even why he had major foul troubles late in the year. If Marcotullio could play 8-10 minutes at point in order to let Juice get some extra rest, I think it would go a long way to helping NU pull out a few more late victories. Looking at the numbers, Maroctullio battled injuries during his senior season, but still impressed enough to be ranked the number two shooting guard in Michigan by He also pulled down a major honor as the Macomb County player of the year. Macomb County is one of the larger counties in Michigan and it as a sign of great respect that Alex received the award despite an injury plagued season. I expect when he comes to Evanston in the fall Alex will be at full health and I think he will without a doubt battle for a starting role. In fact, I think he might even suprise many by winning that role. No matter what, though, he will be a key player next year.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What do we know about the 09-10 schedule?

Some rumors have started about the 2009-10 schedule the Wildcats will play. Of the most interest is the chance NU will play in a tournament with Notre Dame and Iowa State at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates. I'm still not sure what purpose the Sears Center really serves with the number of venues already in Chicago, but I like the idea of NU playing in a quality preseason tournament. I think the Wildcats need some work in games which seem to have a lot of meaning and although this tournament isn't Maui or the preseason NIT, it sounds like it will at least be decent. Also, if NU and ND play in the final, I would think the Sears Center will get a nice uptick in attendance and the Wildcats will get the chance to play in a game with a nice crowd before Big Ten play. NU will probably be on the road in the ACC/Big Challenge and will also play at DePaul. Therefore, I hope NU limits other road games if they also play this tournament. If NU wants to make the real tournament at the end of the year, they need a good balance of tough and easy games. They will play Stanford and Butler at home, those are tough but at least they are at home. With the potential challenges facing NU in an ACC arena and in a neutral site tournament it will also for NU to add some directional schools to round out the rest of their schedule. The tournament might help with this as sometimes these events start on campus and matchup the bigger name schools with teams they should beat. Regardless, it seems like NU fans will have the chance to see NU play at least four name opponents in the Chicago area next year before Big Ten play. That’s great, but it also means NU cannot miss the opportunity those games will present.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tar Heels are Tops

In one of the more lopsided title game in any sport North Carolina took home their fifth title with a victory over Michigan State. Coach Roy Williams has now won two titles at UNC after failing to win a title at Kansas. Tom Izzo is now 1-1 in title games and MSU is 2-1 overall. I can’t even begin to say what impressed me most about North Carolina as they did everything so well. They played lockdown defense, made a ton of long shots, and passed so well that they kept getting point blank layups. Also, I don’t think I have ever seen a Michigan State team seem so overmatched on the boards. It certainly wasn’t what we wanted for Big Ten or for the City of Detroit, but the bad loss does not diminish a great tournament run by Michigan State. I also believe that if the experts look at the Big Ten’s performance objectively, they will see that next year’s Big Ten has a chance to be very strong. Michigan State might be the favorite, but Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State all will feature strong junior class players with postseason experience. Hopefully that will result in a better finish for the Big Ten next year.

Final Game Half Time: UNC in Total Control

Wow. I know UNC is better than MSU but this is crazy. It's too bad this game is basically over as it will be the last college basketball contest until November and the Big Ten isn't looking too good. Still, it is nice to see a Big Ten team in the final game, but unless they turn things around 180 degrees it will be UNC taking home the school's fifth title and Roy Williams his second with his second victory over a Big Ten school.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Michigan State in Final Game

I don't generally spend time worry about teams that aren't Northwestern, but I will have a postgame report on the NCAA Title Game tomorrow night. For now, let's review NU's win over the Spartans.

Here's the link to video: (Thanks to NUBears at Youtube and check out the great site for all sorts of NU highlights)

Here's my recap:

Let's hope MSU pulls off the upset tomorrow night. Maybe then the Big Ten will finally get some respect.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Flashback: The 1939 Final Four

As noted every year by countless talking heads, Northwestern has never been to the Final Four. However, Northwestern did host the very first Final Four 70 years ago. That connection might seem somewhat dubious considering the Wildcats lack of postseason history, but at least it makes NU the answer to an annual trivia question. What’s interesting to me, considering the sports world’s love of alleged cruses (especially in Chicago), is that nobody has ever declared NU to suffer from the curse of Patten Gym or some such thing. At was at Patten Gymnasium on March 27, 1939 the Oregon Ducks defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes to win the first even Final Four title game in Evanston. Of course, the Patten Gymnasium which hosted that historic contest has since been torn down. Still, I wonder if Northwestern where to let a Billy goat walk around Patten if it would eliminate the problems of the both the Wildcats and Cubs. Think about it. With all the suffering Chicago fans have to endure each year—well—it might at least be worth considering.

As far as the actual contests which took place back in 1939, I guarantee nobody figured on the magnitude of the event which they were creating. What stated as an eight team tournament moved to the final two when Oregon defeated Oklahoma to reach the final game and Ohio State advanced by defeating Villanova. The tournament itself consisted of two regions (East and West) and drew a total of 15,025 fans. This year, that attendance total would be paltry for a single game. It is amazing to me to think the biggest sporting event in college athletics, maybe the biggest sporting even in the world outside of the Super Bowl, started in Evanston on Northwestern’s campus. Of course, those who organized this first tournament, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), obviously had no idea of the future event to which they were giving birth. How could they? The NCAA Tournament is currently the biggest money maker for the NCAA, but the first tournament lost $2,531. That was a pretty hefty total in 1939. In fac,t it was this large cash loss which caused the NABC to hand over the running of the tournament to the NCAA. The NABC might very well regret that choice now. Think of the convention they could put on with the NCAA Tournament funds.

In the final game of the 1939 tournament, Oregon beat Ohio State by the score of 46-33. That state of Oregon went crazy when they heard the win over the radio, but nobody else really cared. Interestingly, Ohio State’s Jimmy Hull was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player despite his team finishing second. Hull scored 58 points total in the tournament. A good total, but a total which a very good scorer might get in two games in today’s tournament. As far as Northwestern, perhaps the Wildcats just missed out on the glory of the NCAA Tournament. They captured two Big Ten Titles in the 1930s and the 1930-31 team was actually named National Champs after posting a 16-1 record. If the NABC had decided to start their tournament just a decade earlier NU’s dubious honor of hosting the first Final Four but failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament wouldn’t exist. Hopefully, after next year NU will eliminate this yearly discussion with their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Maybe they’ll even make their first Final Four. It seems unlikely, but NU did defeat current Final Four participant Michigan State in the Spartans own building. That has to be a signal the program is getting closer to closing the book on one of the NCAA’s most frustrating streaks.