Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some thoughts because I haven't posted...

Because I haven’t posted in a while I wanted to offer a few quick thoughts on some NU related stuff. First of all, it doesn’t look that good for NU’s pursuit of Las Vegas guard Johnathan Loyd. Loyd got an offer from hometome UNLV and reportedly really liked Oregon as well. It’s a shame the kid didn’t commit to NU right after NU offered because the ‘Cats clearly beat everyone (other than SMU) in terms of realizing his talent, but that might not be enough. The good news is things look better in NU’s hunt for 6-10 Minnesota Mr. Basketball and recent Boston College de-commit Kevin Noreen. Noreen has visited NU and the ‘Cats seem to be the best program pursuing the all time leading scorer in Minnesota history. Adding Noreen to the front court along with Coble and Shurna would give the ‘Cats some serious punch up front.

The NCAA Tournament will feature 68 teams next year. I think this is much preferable to 96. Odds are when NU makes the tournament they won’t be one of the last four teams in and therefore will avoid the stigma of only making the Big Dance due to ridiculous expansion. Even better news for NU fans not in the Midwest is that now all the games in the Tournament will be shown live on either CBS or one of the Turner networks.

The Wildcats played their football spring game and got a decent day and a good crowd. The game wasn’t filled with excitement, but I doubt anyone can argue against the belief that NU has a very skilled front seven on defense.

The Wrigley Field game is now official and people can actually buy tickets. I’m thinking that the seats which are selling for the most cash aren’t really that great. Knowing Wrigley Field, I get the sense those seats would be very low to ground which isn’t always they best to watch the offense operate. It’s the reason head coaches say they often have the worst seat in the house.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Thoughts on NU at Wrigley

Cubs OF Sam Fuld won't play at Wrigley on Nov. 20th, but the 'Cats will...
Wrigley Field. It is very possibly the most well known sports venue in the United States. It might very well be the most well known sports venue in the world. It’s most famous for it’s beautiful ivy covered walls, neighborhood pubs, and the often futile efforts of its resident baseball team. On November 20, 2010, though, it will also be known as the site of a college football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and Illinois Fighting Illini.

Since the idea of such a contest was floated last year, many different opinions on the matter have been expressed. Even in the NU blog community. It seems Spread Far the Fame (despite helping break the story) is very much opposed to the idea, while Lake the Posts has concerns, but will get behind the effort in order to help make the Friendly Confines unfriendly to the Illini. I’m not sure exactly what view the other major NU blog, Sippin’ on Purple, holds, but Rodger certainly didn’t seem to express the same frustration with the idea that Otto at Spread Far the Fame did.

Personally, I think I’ve agreed with every viewpoint on this game at one time or another. When Jim Phillips first mentioned the idea I thought it was terrible. Especially in a season when NU has only six home games. Now, the ‘Cats will only have five. In a possible rebuilding year, it didn’t seem that smart to give up a home field advantage. Then, the rumor started that the game would be against Iowa. I thought about how NU plays Iowa so well on the road and I decided that it would be a fantastic showcase game for the Wildcats to take on the Hawkeyes in Wrigley. Now, it appears the deal is more or less done and, that like originally figured, Illinois will have the honor of visiting Wrigley to play the ‘Cats. Surprisingly, though, I haven’t gone back to hating this idea. I still think Iowa would be a more exciting game, but I’m starting to buy into the idea of playing a game at Wrigley.

I do agree with those who say that only have five home games stinks for those of us who love to get to games early and tailgate in the parking lot at Ryan Field. The truth is, though, their just aren’t that many of us. What Jim Phillips is trying to do is create some more fans. NU has tons more potential fans (alums, employees, etc.) who are in the Chicago area, but don’t show up at Ryan Field. I can’t begin to speculate why, but it just doesn’t happen. What Phillips wants to do is give these people, and hopefully many of their friends, a reason to get interested in Northwestern. The odds are that the best seats for the Wrigley game will be attached to either season ticket packages or partial (say Big Ten games) season ticket plans. As a result, those people interested in the Wrigley game will buy season tickets for the first time and come out to Ryan Field. Once they do, I think they’ll get hooked. NU games are fun and often exciting. Usually, people want to come back after one visit. If Jim Phillips and the ticket office connect the Wrigley tickets to other games, they will help build NU’s fan base and the off-campus game will be worth the effort. It might even connect Chicago to Northwestern in a new way. After all, besides the items I mentioned at the start of this post, the other thing Wrigley Field is best known for is being located at 1060 W. Addison Street in Chicago, Illinois. People who think Chicago think Wrigley Field and those who live in the city are proud the park stands in their town. If NU can take over Wrigley Field, if even for a day, perhaps the large contingent of Chicago sports fans who don’t have a team will adopt NU as one of their own.
At least those are the goals. Yeah, it isn’t ideal to give up a home game, but if doing so adds to greater home attendance early in the season and in 2011; it’ll be worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2009-10 Wish List Review

After last season I made a wish list for 2009-10, I thought it would be fun to see what wishes came true. At some point soon I'll make a similar list for next year. My comments about the results of these wishes are in bold.

- Kyle Rowley to use his size to his advantage. It seemed too often this year despite being 7-0, Rowley played like he was 5-11. Okay, so this clearly didn't happen, though, Kyle had some moments like getting a couple post baskets vs Purdue. In the end, though, I think he really needed a redshirt season.

- Jeremy Nash to hit at least 2 threes a game. If Nash can hit threes he can then drive to the hoop and give NU another threat on offense. This did happen at the start of the year and NU won 10 of 11 games. It happened some in the Big Ten and NU won those games. When it didn't happen NU didn't win.

- Drew Crawford to provide NU with a player who cannot only score off the dribble, but who can guard other players who can score off the dribble. Crawford needs to work on defense, but some does everyone on the NU roster. He did score off the dribble and rebound and might be better on defense if he avoids injury next year.

- Alex Marcotullio to have Craig Moore like range. It didn't always show, but he's got it.

- Luka Mirkovic to consistently hit 15-18 foot shots. Didn't happen consistently, but Luka did do so once and a while.

- Kevin Coble to be first team All-Big Ten. N/A - This moves to 2010-11.

- The Wildcats to win at least 7 Big Ten home games. Should have happened, but you can't drop games to Penn State.

- The fans to fill Welsh-Ryan Arena for a non-conference game which NU wins. I don't know if it was full, but NU did have nice crowds for NIU and Stanford.

- The Wildcats to win on the road against an ACC team. Check. NU bests NC State.

- John Shurna to average at least 10 ppg and 5 rpg. Check and Check. Shurna more than met those marks.

- Northwestern finish games in which they have large leads. Overall not bad when the chance came. The problem was NU didn't get a lot of leads. The 'Cats ended up playing for down far to often in fact.

- Kevin Coble shoot 42% or better from three. N/A - Also moving this to 2010-11

- Ivan Peljusic to find a role where he can bring his excitment to the floor for at least 5-8 minutes a game. Sadly, this might never happen.

- Juice Thompson to hit 45% of his threes and be the best point guard in the Big Ten. He was at 41% and the second part is subjective. He was without a doubt the point guard who was most important to his team in the Big Ten. If he gets a real backup next year and only has to play 30 minutes he might make 55% of his threes with the extra rest for his legs.

- Northwestern to once again will all non-conference home games. NU lost to Butler. Butler lost to Duke for the NCAA Title. I suppose I can live with that loss.

- Northwestern to win at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament. Didn't happen, but should have. NU played poorly in the round two loss.

- Northwestern to play in the NCAA Tournament. Needs to happen next year.

- Northwestern to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Needs to happen next year.

- Bill Carmody to win National Coach of the Year. The first coach who takes NU to the NCAA Tournament has got to win this award. Needs to happen next year.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welsh-Ryan Ramblings Awards 2009-10

Award Winner John Shurna Talks to the Media

Like Major League Baseball I've waited to pass out awards for a while in effort to extent the season, but here are the Welsh-Ryan Ramblings awards for this season. The awards fit into two categories. The first is individual awards. It is in this category where awards such as MVP will be passed out. The second category is event awards. This category will feature awards such as play of the year. Let’s start with the individual awards…

Most Valuable Player: Michael “Juice” Thompson

John Shurna deserves a lot of credit for what he did this year, but anybody who watched this team knows the Wildcats would have stunk without Juice. His numbers are decent with 14.2ppg and 139 assists, but what really made Juice the most valuable Wildcat is the fact he was the only player to consistently handle the ball this year. That makes his only turning the ball over 59 times absolutely amazing. He also made 41.1% of his threes which led the team and I think that number goes up if NU adds a decent backup for Juice next season.

Pervious Winner
2008-09…Craig Moore

Newcomer of the Year: Drew Crawford

Yes, he did disappear a bit at times, but Drew Crawford battle through injury enough to finish the year with a 10.0ppg average and capture Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He also finished the season with two double-doubles in a row. One Rivals poster has already suggested Drew will be “The Man” next season for NU. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but with Crawford, Shurna, and Coble playing together next season NU will have a potent combination of guys who can shoot, but also score inside as well.

Previous Winner
2008-09…John Shurna

Defensive Player of the Year: Jeremy Nash

Jeremy Nash finished the year with 58 steals and 22 blocks. Those are good numbers, but what really made him NU’s best defensive player was the commitment he seemed to show to defense when others lacked such a commitment. Jeremy always tried to be active atop the 1-3-1 and get back and help when playing man-to-man. He wasn’t always successful, but he consistently played harder than many of his teammates.

Previous Winner
2008-09…Jeremy Nash

Now we move to the event awards…

Game of the Year (Individual): John Shurna vs Notre Dame

In the first meeting between the two schools in 25 years, John Shurna scored 25 points to help the Wildcats to a win over #23 Notre Dame and a bid to the Chicago Invitational Challenge Title Game, which they would win a day later. What made Shurna’s day even more impressive was that he scored so well against Luke Harangody. A player many expect to see in the NBA next season. As it turned out Shurna would have even bigger games, but his step up in this contest set the stage for a very successful season individual season.

Previous Winner
2008-09…Kevin Coble vs MSU

Game of the Year (Team): vs Purdue at Welsh-Ryan

Northwestern topped #6 Purdue 72-64 on January 16th and the NU fans rushed the court. When this season is looked back upon, I suspect people will talk about this game and the win over Illinois and forget about everything else. That’s probably fine. To be honest, the second half of the Big Ten season was pretty disappointing. For a few moments on the night of January 16th, though, it seemed like NU was already in the NCAA Tournament. From the opening tip to the last buzzer, NU took the game to the #6 team in the nation and eventual Big Ten Champ. The Wildcats aggressively defended the Boilermakers, something they didn’t do to anyone else, and they got great production from Luka Mirkovic 16 points and 10 rebounds who when he played well often became the key to an NU victory. They also made 26-of-30 free throws, a skill which cost NU in several other games.

Previous Winner
2008-09…vs DePaul

Play of the Year: Jeremy Nash three pointer to put NU up on Illinois 53-52

Welsh-Ryan Arena exploded when Jeremy Nash hit a three to put NU up on Illinois 53-52. Once that ‘Cats grabbed that lead, something they hadn’t had since very early, they held on to the lead to beat their in-state rival for the first time in 6 years. Considering how loud Welsh-Ryan got on that shot with the half the arena cheering for Illinois, it is scary to think how loud the place could get if NU consistently packed the place with Wildcat fans.

Pervious Winners:
2008-09…John Shurna

Dunk of the Year: Drew Crawford at Michigan

Northwestern doesn’t have many tip dunks that I recall, but Crawford recorded two this season, one at Illinois and one at Michigan. I like the Michigan one more because NU won the game and it was the play that got play-by-play man Tom Hamilton to exclaim, “There must be two or maybe even three Crawfords out there for Northwestern.” Drew was all over the place that day.

Previous Winners:
2008-09… Ivan Peljusic

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rowley Transfer Opens Opportunity for Curletti, Ryan and Recruiting

Kyle Rolwey departs Northwestern after playing 61 games for the Wildcats

If you don’t already know, Kyle Rowley will be transferring from Northwestern with hopes of playing in a program which better fits his skill. Unlike past NU transfers who pretty much only hurt NU (Rex Walters and Geno Carlisle), only hurt themselves (Matt Moran and Carvell Ammons), or hurt both (Steve Lepore), this move will help both Northwestern and Kyle.

While you hate to see any player that you recruited transfer away, I have to believe Bill Carmody realized at some point in the last two years that Kyle Rowley was the ultimate square peg in a round hole at Northwestern. In an offense where the center can get a lot of open threes, Rowley had no range past five feet. Playing a 1-3-1 defense where the center has to be mobile to slide down and help a smaller baseline defender, Rowley was big and sluggish and couldn’t move. If we go back to the Spring of 2008 when Rowley was recruited he was a big get for NU, but at the time NU was desperate for size and Carmody, Hardy, and the rest of the NU coaches probably were willing to ignore some of Kyle’s faults since he was 7-feet and 280-pounds. Those attributes where enough to get Rowley almost 30 starts as a freshman, but even with those starts Rowley eventually gave way to Luka Mirkovic in terms of minutes played. This season Mirkovic still wasn’t an ideal Princeton Offense center, but his occasional ability to hit a three and more mobile defensive ability made him get the majority of the starts. Making things even tougher for Rowley, Davide Curletti showed the ability to pass and shoot from the top of the key as well during the Big Ten season which pretty much restricted Rowley to the bench. At that point I began to believe Rowley would benefit from a redshirt next season. Now, he’ll get one, but it’ll be someone else as he waits out a year as a transfer. To some extent I find that a disappointment, but the truth is even with a redshirt Rowley never would have become a Princeton Offense center. Now, the opportunity exists for others to take advantage.

First off, this is potentially good news for Jeff Ryan. Now, instead of having to comeback as a walk-on next year, Ryan could get a scholarship for his fifth season. That to me is well deserved given the effort Jeff has put in to rehab since his injury. Also, Rowley being gone and NU only having two true centers opens up the possibility of more three guard lineups which gives Ryan the chance to play more. A lineup which features 6-5 Drew Crawford and 6-6 Jeff Ryan at guard spots along with 6-8s Kevin Coble and John Shurna at forward does give the Wildcats a pretty good rebounding team as Ryan is still one of NU’s best leapers.

The other player who should benefit from the Rowley transfer is Davide Curletti. Curletti looked like he might have jumped Rowley this season, but now he’ll get his practice time as well. I’ve been convinced for a while that NU had too many centers on the roster. Especially with none distinguishing themselves as it meant all three (or four with Ivan Peljusic) needed to get practice reps. Now, I think NU can focus on using Mirkovic and Curletti at center most of the time with occasional use of Peljusic. As a result, I suspect you’ll see both improve their overall game (but especially their inside post moves and passing) with the extra practice.

Finally, theoretically this opens up another spot for a class of 2010 recruit. However, I’m not really sure what’s available that would be better than just holding the scholarship for another year. Still, it would be worth looking around.

Bottom line, I wish Kyle Rowley a lot of luck. The odds of success for him will increase in a more traditional system and Northwestern will benefit by having more natural fits for the Princeton Offense getting reps in practice.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Position Group Evaluation: Coaching Staff

Position Group: Coaching Staff
Personnel Evaluated: Bill Carmody, Mitch Henderson, Tavaras Hardy, and Ivan Vujic
Grade: B

I’ve said this before, but it is worth restating that whenever one tries to evaluate a coaching staff they take on something of a challenge. As a fan or member of the media you are really only exposed to the work of a coaching staff during games. However, the majority of the work done by a coaching staff is actually done in practice. What you have to do is decide if the results you see in the games are an accurate reflection of the work done in practice. At times they really are not. I’ve seen more than a few coaches with excellent game plans lose contests because of issues their players had which where simply beyond their control. As much as fans might think so, a coach cannot prevent every bad pass or bad shot by a player with practice time. Sometimes even good players simply act stupid at the exact wrong moment of a game.

Having said that, I think this year’s results for the Wildcats were fairly accurate in reflecting the performance of Bill Carmody and his staff. At the start of the season the Wildcats were able to successfully navigate their non-conference schedule with only one exception, a loss to Final Four participate Butler. In the middle of the year the Wildcats were reasonably successful in the Big Ten, but at the end of the year they basically collapsed down the stretch despite facing weaker competition than in previous parts of the season.

I have to give Carmody and his staff great credit for pulling the team together and developing a game plan which resulted in the Wildcats beating a number of tough early season opponents only weeks after losing Kevin Coble for the year. What Carmody and his staff did to increase the role and accelerate the development of John Shurna into one of the Big Ten’s top players deserves great recognition. For the first 11 games of NU’s schedule, I’d probably give the coaching staff an A-. They did reasonably well in the middle portion of the season as well. I probably couldn’t give the coaches an A-, but a B+ would probably be reasonable based on wins at Michigan, vs Illinois, and a dominating performances at home against Indiana and Michigan. Carmody did an excellent job changing the Wildcats defense to include a double team on Demetri McCamey in the Illinois game in Evanston which resulted in the Illini turning the ball over and NU going on a big run to comeback and take the lead and eventually win the game. Of course, NU also had some chances to win a couple more games, but seemed ill-prepared on the road, something which became even more of a problem late in the season. The game at Minnesota in which the Wildcats staged a great comeback, but paid for getting in a big first half hole is a great example. In the last part of the season the Wildcat coaches would be lucky to receive a C. The ‘Cats struggled in losses to Big Ten bottom feeders Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana. Even worse, perhaps, was the fact the Wildcats could have pulled a huge upset at Wisconsin, but basically decided not to play in the first half. I’m not going to be one to criticize Carmody for his teams’ lack of “fire” I think that’s far too subjective of a term. However, I do think Carmody’s squads far too often look uncertain in the first part of games. That shouldn’t happen with Carmody and assistant coach Mitch Henderson supposedly amongst the best game prep experts around. I also can’t for the life of me understand how Penn State constantly beats the Wildcats. Yes, PSU’s lineup featured some good players, but that team only won three Big Ten games this year and two of them were against Northwestern. If Northwestern wants to seriously contend in the Big Ten not losing to teams at the bottom of the league would be a huge step forward.

That’s my overall impression of the season. As far as specific criticism I have two major issues. The first was NU’s defense which was just terrible. As mentioned in the past, when NU tries to play man-to-man they switch on even the weakest screen. I know Northwestern doesn’t have the greatest athletes, but they have to try to fight through screens more or they’ll constantly be caught in mismatches, which we saw regularly at the end of the year. NU’s other primary defense was the 1-3-1 zone. This is a good defense, but to be honest I think a lot of Big Ten teams are getting used to seeing this as it has been NU’s primary defense since 2006. Despite him making great effort, I have think that having 5-10 Michael “Juice” Thompson on the baseline makes this defense far weaker than if NU had a bigger player on the baseline. When Ohio State plays David Lighty on the baseline of the 1-3-1 it seems to work a lot better. Of course, Northwestern had to play Thompson because no one else can handle the ball. All I can say is that I think NU should learn legit man-to-man, especially if they envision replacing Thompson with 5-9 Jonathan Lloyd in a couple years.

The area where I thought NU’s coaches really struggled was end of game or end of half possessions. I can only think of one time this season when NU had the ball at the end of the half or the end of the game and scored. In the past, I thought drawing up such plays was a Bill Carmody strength, but this year NU consistently failed to even get a good shot with possession and the clocking running down. Perhaps the best (worst) example of this was NU’s last possession in the game at Minnesota. Actually, NU’s last regulation possession against Minnesota at home is also a good example. In both cases NU basically forced a shot and didn’t seem to truly execute any sort of play. As the ‘Cats get better and play in bigger games, they’ll need to be able to successfully score in such situations as it may be the difference between a win and a loss.

Overall, I think what Northwestern’s coaches did this year in pulling together an injured team and getting into the postseason was well done. However, with NU’s underachievement late in the season they can’t get an A range grade. However, with improvement in a few areas I have no doubt they can get NU into more significant and successful postseasons in the future. I just wish I knew they were making an effort even today to teach better defense to their players.