Northwestern released the full basketball schedule today. It features 29 total games (2 less than last year) and only 1 or 2 games in the non-conference schedule against BCS conference opposition. Based on last season the best team NU will face is Georgia Tech who NU plays in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. However, this year’s Georgia Tech team will be lacking a trio of key players from last year’s squad. In point of fact, Georgia Tech might still be NU’s toughest opponent, but I’m actually more worried having to start the season on the road at Northern Illinois. It just seems the type of game Northwestern could lose. Perhaps that’s a negative attitude, but it’s brought on by years of Northwestern fandom. Bottom line, though, while NU’s non-conference opponents aren’t the basketball equivalent of the 1927 Yankees (some are more like 1962 Mets) NU has a great chance to go 11-0 in non-conference play. Of course, NU was 10-2 to start last season and failed to do enough in the Big Ten to make the tournament. NU was 9-0 in 93-94 and ended up in the NIT that year as well. Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself this season.
Reading the message boards a number of fans are upset at the schedule. I don’t love it either, but I am a little frustrated at the number of people who simply can’t wait to place blame regarding anything related to NU basketball. Some will say I’m being too kind or that I’m too far in the pro-Bill Carmody camp, but I think anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I’ve had no problem calling out Carmody for what I’ve seen as poor in game decisions. However, I do have a problem calling out Carmody, Jim Phillips, or anyone else for something I can’t judge. I can go to a game or watch it on TV and say what I would have do in the same situation the coach faces. We as fans have no idea what went on behind closed doors when Carmody and Phillips tried to setup this schedule. For all we know NU called Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and UCLA to try and setup games but were turned down by all four. That might not be the case, but we really don’t know. It could be. I’d think that Carmody would have preferred a more competitive schedule, but it is a pretty well known fact that coaches hate playing Princeton Offense teams because they have to alter practice for a couple days before the game. Coaches hate altering practice for even five minutes, if they have to alter it for five days they’re on the verge of panic.
Another problem besides NU running the Princeton Offense is that NU is actually decent enough they can beat you on your home court, but you don’t get anything back for beating them. Say NU went to Kansas and Kansas beat NU 101-64, nobody would be surprised. People would say that’s what Kansas should have done. Now, say NU goes to Kansas and NU wins 70-68. People will want Bill Self fired. Face it, NU gets no respect. All the ‘Cats are to good teams is a game that they should win and that if they don’t might cause the coach to be seeking other employment (see: Steve Alford).
A third problem for NU in scheduling is NU isn’t really a draw on the road. Nobody is going to show up just to see Northwestern. Therefore, some teams probably don’t want NU for a home and home, but as a Big Ten team NU can’t except going someplace 2-for-1 nor can they take a buyout game. Some of you will say NU should do so, when rumors existed Notre Dame offered NU a 2-for-1 in football a few years back I said the same thing, but really if NU wants to be a big time Big Ten program they can’t take the same deal teams give San Diego State or Air Force.
Sometime in the future I’ll really look at what this schedule means, but I think what it means is that NU needs to somehow rack about 21 wins before the Big Ten Tournament in order to make the Big Dance. A 21-8 record should be enough with the strength of this year’s Big Ten.