Well, that’s it. Northwestern’s season ends at 20-14 with a first round NIT loss to Rhode Island. If you’ve watched Northwestern all season you can’t be too surprised with the result of this game, but you have to be frustrated that Northwestern did virtually nothing to correct the defensive problems they’ve suffered through all season.
Northwestern’s inability to play defense has been a recurring theme on this blog all season. Once again the Wildcats couldn’t play man-to-man at all. They again switched on every screen and as a result found themselves in disastrous mismatches. The number of times Michael Thompson got himself caught on a 6-8 or 7-0 forward and was forced to foul or allow an easy basket was utterly ridiculous. The 1-3-1 was probably even worse as the number of open looks Akeen Richmond, URI’s only shooter, got was as ridiculous as having Thompson try to guard 7-0 Will Martell. The 1-3-1 also forced Thompson into trouble because as a result of URI not being turnover prone, which had to be in the scouting report, they passed well and threw repeated lob passes over the top which resulted in easy dunks and layups. This problem was also probably somewhat compounded by the fact that Luka Mirkovic was out with a bad back and Kyle Rowley couldn’t rotate down as quickly as Mirkovic could have. Still, that’s no excuse for basically letting a team beat you in the second half with layups and free throws. The number of free throws URI got was astronomical. Yes, a few came late when NU had to foul, but plenty came earlier. The reason: NU can’t move their feet on defense so they just grab guys.
Basically, I’m pretty sure five people off the street could play the Northwestern defense just as effective as NU’s scholarship basketball players. I mean I can grab people and not be in position very well when playing pickup games. I don’t really blame the players, though. They have enough talent to be better. This is a serious coaching deficiency which needs to be addressed. I’m sure a number of other people will use this loss to go strongly after Bill Carmody. I’ll have my grades for all position groups (guards, forwards, centers) and coaches in the next couple weeks. All I will say now on Carmody is that his performance this year was not in my opinion up to the standard he set last season and showed in his stronger years past. If I were Jim Phillips I’d feel reasonably obligated to give Carmody an extension, but I’d want at least one assistant replaced with defensive expert and I wouldn’t extend him past two years.
A big positive for NU was that this contest was postseason game. That hasn’t happened much in NU Basketball. However, as the last team in the NIT, I think you could argue Northwestern would have been more evenly matched with a CBI opponent. I’d also offer congratulations to Drew Crawford who posted his second consecutive double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds tonight. Also, Kyle Rowley had a serviceable game with 7 points and 7 rebounds stepping in for the injured Luka Mirkovic.
Unfortunately, Rowley’s missed free throws and a number of missed shots from Crawford did hurt. Crawford and John Shurna needed to do a much better job converting three pointers for NU to win, but they constantly missed fairly open looks. Michael Thompson did get 24 points and kept NU in the game (to a point) almost by himself. Sadly, Jeremy Nash’s offense disappeared towards the end of the season and it didn’t reappear tonight. In NU’s biggest wins this season Nash scored big points, but since about the middle of February he hasn’t served as an offensive weapon. I was also disappointed that John Shurna finished the year in a slump as well. Like Craig Moore last season, one of the Wildcats best offensive weapons, he struggled in the Big Ten Tournament and the one NIT game. That probably contributed to those defeats. Northwestern isn’t deep enough to seriously believe someone is going to come off the bench and make up for a cold shooting Shurna.
It’ll be a long offseason now for the Wildcats. For the second straight year they’ll be kicking themselves for a number missed chances to go beyond the NIT. Last year NU lost games in the final minutes to loose out on a tourney bid. This year they lost games in the final stretch of the season. It’s awfully depressing. Perhaps the reason has to do with that lack of depth. If that is the case the addition of JerShon Cobb and the return of Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan will help. Next year the ‘Cats should be 10-deep with ease.
For now, though, these losses hurt. It’ll be hard to enjoy basketball for the next few days knowing that NU should still be playing. Eventually, I’ll get over the pain and enjoy the tournament, but part of me won’t even want to do so.
I suppose in the meantime NU fans can concern themselves with NU’s women’s basketball team playing a WNIT game tomorrow at home and the women’s lacrosse season which should see the ‘Cats contend for a 6th consecutive title. There is also spring football and the fun Dan Persa/Evan Watkins debate should start soon. In the end, though, what I really want to see from Northwestern athletics is an NCAA Tournament bid. I’ve waited more than a quarter century for such an event. Given that, I suppose I can wait another 365 days.