Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chicago's Mike Turner Commits to NU

Northwestern added another local player as Chicago University High School's Mike Turner commited to Northwestern after a visit on Saturday. Turner is 6-7 forward who is said to have a nice outside shot. Basically, he fits the mode of the type of forward NU wants to play in Coach Carmody's offense. He is a class of 2011 recuirt so he will sign in the fall period with Tre Demps and fellow Chicago-area prep star David Sobolewski.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some Keys to Success

So I’ve been thinking about how NU’s basketball and football teams can be successful or more successful than they are. After all, let’s not discount what’s been done thus far. Football is 5-2 and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are coming off of postseason appearances. However, I think we can all agree that while those successes are very nice, we can expect more success from those programs in the future. Here are four keys to that success.

1) Win at Home – It’s not that NU is 5-2 that has football fans upset. It’s that NU is 2-2 at home. Good Big Ten (and Big Time) teams win games at home. NU is freakishly good football wise on the road (10-3 in last 13), but if you’re that good on the road you should put up 10 or 11 win seasons not 8 win seasons. The good news is NU’s basketball teams are actually better at home, but Coach Carmody’s guys still ripped out fans hearts last year when they gave away a game to Wisconsin and failed to beat Penn State at Welsh-Ryan.

2) Consistently Respond to Big Ten Challenges – NU always seems to get some nice wins in conference play and has seemingly turned a corner in both sports regarding non-conference games, but they don’t consistently show up for Big Ten games. That’s bad. Look at football vs Purdue or basketball last year at Iowa or vs Penn State. Those are games in conference where NU was better than the opponent, but didn’t rise to meet the challenge the other team offered. Yes, NU you were better, but those teams decided they were still going to try to win and because they tried harder, they did.

3) Finish Games – Most obviously this comes up after two blown football leads, but men’s basketball had a serious problem finishing games two years ago and the problem resurfaced last year a couple times as well. When you’ve got a team down you can’t let them off the hook.

4) Expect to Win – This goes for fans as well. Good programs build expectations of success. While we as NU fans have higher expectations than fans of the ‘Cats 20 years ago, we still don’t expect to win all the time. Sadly, I think the players sometimes react the same way—especially basketball wise. I can think of a number of games last year against so called “better” teams that NU folded as soon as the lead got big for the other guys (see: Ohio State and Butler). It was almost as if when the ‘Cats came out and the game went bad they looked at each other the said, “see they’re just better.” They might be, but that doesn’t mean you have to stand around looking really impressed as Evan Turner uses you as fodder to improve his draft stock. NU did at least mount a comeback in the game at Wisconsin, but they should never have gotten down so much in the first place.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Short Report from Hoops and Snoop

Here’s short report from reader Nate R. who went to Hoops and Snoop on Friday night. Also, I'm still looking for someone who wants to help write for the blog, so if that's something you want to do please send me an e-mail.

Here's Nate's report:

It’s hard to really say too much about the team from this event other than that Mike Capocci really can jump as well as any other Big Ten leaper. The scrimmage was a co-ed scrimmage which looked a lot like the NBA All-Star game when looking at defense being played. Really, the only defense was when JerShon Cobb went up and blocked a shot from one of the women’s players. Good news is that he looks athletic, bad news is most of the men’s players in the Big Ten have better verticals than NU’s women’s team.

I guess I should say that it did look like NU would still be able to score points as the guys did hit a number of threes in the scrimmage, but again it wasn’t like anybody played real defense so the shots were basically wide open.

Both coaches spoke at the event and that was probably the highlight. Bill Carmody thanked the crowd for great fan support last season. He especially highlighted the Purdue and Illinois games which I think we can all agree were the best NU crowd efforts last year. Hopefully, he fired up people to come to games this year too, but I always get a little depressed that it seems like NU’s coaches have to beg fans to show up. It is Big Ten sports. People should want to watch the teams. Especially this team, because I do think they’ll be pretty good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Almost Time to Tip Off Season with Hoops and Snoop on Friday

So on Friday Northwestern tips off the basketball season with an event at SPAC, essentially an open practice with a few other items tossed in hopes of entertaining the fans that show up. It reminds me a bit of the Halloween Hoop-la events which occurred while I was in school. Basically, the event is an effort to bring both the men’s and women’s teams some level of exposure on campus so their fellow students might come and see them play. It is in no way a bad idea, though, attendance at the old Halloween Hoop-la events was never that great. It was mostly the same diehards who showed up to every game whether it was Iowa or Texas Pan-America.

The one positive that might help attendance is that NU is trying to dovetail the event with the Snoop concert at Welsh-Ryan Arena the same day. It’s a shame that it doesn’t seem Snoop and the Hoops will be anywhere near each other on the day of Hoops and Snoop because brining them together might have seriously boosted attendance at the event. Of course, the logistics and cost of such an event probably would have needed to be arranged much earlier than it seems this event was planned. Still, perhaps NU making a big deal about transportation directly to Welsh-Ryan from SPAC will help. Plus, with no football game Saturday morning perhaps students will venture to SPAC for an NU sports fix. I’ve heard that going to football games has actually become expected for most people on campus, so perhaps that same level of enthusiasm will translate to hoops this year as well.

I will not be in attendance Friday at either hoops or Snoop, so if anybody goes and wants to provide a report please e-mail it to me at and I’ll be more than happy to post it. You could also simply leave your report in the comments section. In addition, I’d really like to expand the amount of coverage on this site, but I’m also finding myself with less and less time to do so. Therefore, if anybody out there in internet land wants a platform to talk about NU hoops at times this year, also please feel free to e-mail me. Basically, I’m looking to get up some more non-postgame analysis pieces and I’d also be more than willing to share pre and postgame write-ups as well. I’d also promise not to stick you with the preview of Mount St. Mary’s. I don’t really have any requirements that I’m looking for beyond being an NU hoops fan who will share reasoned analysis from time to time, but if you were one of those diehards in the mid-2000s that I sat with at those Halloween Hoop-la events and lousy games against Penn State I’d be happy to hear you thoughts on a potentially strong season.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Murphy’s Law and NU Athletics

It’s almost time for basketball practice to start and most fans are pretty excited. In the wake of the football team’s loss to Purdue, though, my thoughts on the coming season are suddenly focused more on avoiding disappointment than I thought they would have been. I like to think I’m a realist and I know NU will have a tough road to the NCAA Tournament this year, but I also think they have a good shot. However, thinking back over my NU fandom, despite the fact that I’ve seen four basketball postseason teams and six bowl games in football, I still feel as though NU sports live by one law…Murphy’s.

Despite the success needed to reach those postseason dates, NU has only won once in them and has failed to succeed in a number of key regular season games that might have improved their postseason fate. I don’t want to rehash bad memories, but I’ll highlight football at Iowa in 2000 and basketball at Ohio State in 2009 as games which likely kept NU from the Rose Bowl and the NCAA Tournament respectively. The basketball team is 0-2 when ranked and the football is 1-9 when ranked since 2000. Neither of those two stats is good. A friend suggested NU impose a poll ban on itself. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.

The question that I’m left asking myself is what causes Northwestern’s highest profile teams (football and men’s basketball) to find ways to fail whenever attention seems to get paid to them. Part of me even wonders if it is the fault of us as fans who start to believe the little hype which exists and if that somehow translates to the players and makes them overconfident. I don’t think that’s it, but some level of overconfidence might play a role. After all, these are kids who range in age from 18-23. When people start to tell them how good they are, they might start to believe it a little too easily. If I’m Bill Carmody or Pat Fitzgerald I’m starting to guard against that very closely given the past few years.

Some people will simply say NU’s problem with success is they aren’t that good to start with. That they have a way of being lucky, but luck catches up to less talented teams. I have trouble with that. At some point if you’re successful it ceases to be luck. Winning close games is a skill in itself. A skill that comes from having a team with talented players and good coaches.

This is a good Northwestern basketball team. John Shurna deserves to be mentioned as a top candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year and Juice Thompson might be the best point guard in the league (don’t laugh, it might be true). However, NU will face a Big Ten with a ton of other good players and the ‘Cats aren’t so stocked with talent they can take games off or even moments of games off. They have to focus the entire time.

In the end, I think that’s what makes lesser talented teams who win all the time able to do so. Focus. They play every play with a sense of urgency because they know they can’t afford to let up. You want people to believe they are good, but at some point realizing that they player across from you is just as good as you counts for a lot as well. It might even make you better because you’re then working harder to beat him than he is to beat you.

That’s how Northwestern needs to play in both football and men’s basketball. When they’re successful that IS how they play. The effort Bill Carmody’s teams showed last year at home against Illinois and Purdue was amazing. NU never let up on intensity (thanks in part I think to great crowds). On the other hand, in that 2009 Ohio State game I mentioned above and last year’s game at Wisconsin (key games for postseason bids) NU came out with a notable lack of intensity. Almost as if they were just happy to be there. They then got way down and woke up and made a furious comeback with great intensity. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. At least those were against good teams, though. The same result played out against weaker competition in Iowa and Penn State last season. On those nights NU was a team that looked unfocused and undisciplined for most of the game and wasn’t trying to play harder than the other guys for 40 minutes. They looked more like a team that thought they would win, but didn’t want to work too hard to make it happen. I think the football equivalent played out against Purdue Saturday night.

The real crime of NU’s Murphy’s Law athletic department isn’t indivudal losses or disappointed fans, though. The real crime is the players on the court/field are good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament or the Rose Bowl. They just need to play like it all the time and not let anything else get in the way.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2010-2011...A Critical Year

Packing Welsh-Ryan Arena long term is just one of the possible results if NU has a good year.

Though I rarely post on them, I enjoy going to the various Northwestern message boards and reading the posts. I think all things considered, Northwestern fans tend to have far more reasoned message board debates than fans of nearly any other school. Sure, a few fans are strongly positioned in certain stances, generally related to the head basketball coach, that they aren’t really going to change their mind or truly argue reason in a debate, but most of what you read from NU fans is pretty good. Still, even amongst us reasoned NU fans, you still sometimes get a reactionary post that expresses great frustration after a bad game, the failure to land a recruit, or the creation of a boring schedule. Even with my best efforts to be reasonable, I’m sure after some of the tough losses of the last few years I let some frustration show as well. Most recently, if we eliminate the schedule issues, the frustration from fans has revolved around recruiting. Since landing David Sobolewski and Tre Demps this summer, NU has targeted several big man recruits. None have come to NU. That led to a few recent posts calling for the firing of an assistant coach or even one poster who wanted NU to replace Bill Carmody with a dynamic young coach to spice up recruiting.

I think making such arguments based on some recruiting losses in the summer and early fall is, frankly, ridiculous, but the posts did remind me just how critical this coming season is for Northwestern. In fact, recruiting momentum is just one of about a half dozen things which could turn for the NU program based on the success or failure of this coming season. I am cautiously optimistic for NU’s success, but realizing just how critical this year is, I think I’d drive myself to depression if I didn’t try to take a positive outlook. I don’t really have time to post on every issue, but I want to look at a few things NU’s success or failure this year will likely determine.

1) Attendance – Northwestern is working like crazy to market their sports and increase attendance to at least respectable levels. Coming of two postseason appearances with expectations high for the 2010-11 season, this is the best chance to market NU basketball in years. However, Northwestern faces the hurdle of a weak non-conference schedule and the always fickle NU fans. If the ‘Cats, with expectations, come out and have a disappointing year, it could make the future marketing of NU basketball a near impossibility no matter how many marketing experts Jim Phillips hires.

2) Recruiting – I mentioned this above as the latest hot button issue, but let’s go more in-depth. A second grader could tell us how to negative recruit against Northwestern. Just mention they haven’t ever been to the NCAA Tournament and haven’t won the Big Ten since the 1930s. If a second grader can figure out an argument, you can bet Fran McCaffery, Kevin Stallings, and Johnny Dawkins can figure it out as well. This is the year NU can finally shut that argument down, but if they fail to do so, it might stand for another few years.

3) Media Attention – Some of the media attention NU was going to get left with Kevin Coble. His return to form was a built in story the press would have loved, but NU still has at least six and possibly more games this year on CBS or the ESPN family of networks. NU has never hit such a number of national games. If the team does will it will offer a great chance to share the ‘Cats with the nation, which should do a lot for attendance and recruiting as well.

4) Coaching Jobs – This could probably be a whole post on its own, but it isn’t unrealistic to think this season could be one where Bill Carmody and his staff are being closely evaluated by their boss, Dr. Jim Phillips. I’ve mentioned how much I like Carmody several times, but he’s been the coach at Northwestern for 10 years and has not made the NCAA Tournament. This season basically ends his second recruiting cycle and I think most NU experts, and former coach Kevin O’Neill, would say getting NU into the NCAAs isn’t a one recruiting cycle job. You probably do need two. Now, Carmody has had his two and he’s got the best chance to make the Big Dance ever (he’s also got a field which grew to 68 teams). Now, I don’t know if failure to make the NCAA Tournament is a friable offense with the tough Big Ten this year, but such a failure, especially if NU again struggles on defense, might force Carmody to make staff changes if nothing else. After all, I seriously doubt Dr. Phillips intends to give his coach 15 years (or three recruiting cycles) to make the Big Dance.

I could go on, but the point is this season is critical for the future of Northwestern basketball. I’m be watching very closely starting November 12th and I’m sure you all will be as well. I guess what we should do is try to encourage others to do the same and see if we can help out with point number one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More Schedule Thoughts...Looking for Positive Momentum

Northwestern’s basketball schedule has now been discussed in great detail on this blog, other blogs, and message boards over the last several days. The consensus is that the Wildcats schedule features a fairly weak and boring non-conference slate. Also, most agree they would like to see Northwestern take on more local teams such as DePaul and Loyola.

Based on the numbers I have to agree with the first statement (though a silver lining might exist) and I absolutely agree on the second. I don’t know what happened to NU’s series with DePaul. Starting in the mid-2000s it seemed then NU AD Mark Murphy had made a commitment to reestablish a yearly series, but it disappeared last year. However, when last year’s schedule was released both teams indicated the series would resume this season. Something obviously prevented that. I know DePaul has a new coach, but wouldn’t a contract have been in place which required the game? I really don’t know, but I think that’s a notable missing game on NU’s schedule. NU hasn’t played Loyola in a very long time. The story is that Bill Carmody refuses to play them due to some controversy over a recruit or recruiting. This makes no sense to me. First off all, do NU and Loyola really cross recruit that much? Second, if you really don’t like another team or coach isn’t the best way to deal with that dislike by betting them? I’d think so. Now, Loyola wouldn’t be a huge resume boosting win (neither would DePaul) but at least playing those schools might generate a little local excitement and if nothing might put some more people inside Welsh-Ryan Arena. I mean as much as NU’s marketing has improved, Arkansas-Pine Bluff is tough sell even if they did make the NCAA Tournament.

Now, what’s the silver lining of NU’s weak schedule? Well, one thing that can’t be substituted for is success. Northwestern beat Minnesota in football today 29-28 and although it was a rather unimpressive win, it helps guarantee a good crowd for next week’s game at home against Purdue. Frankly, Northwestern’s fans (especially student fans) have a reputation for being quick to stay home after a loss and a loss to last place Minnesota would have really reduced the Ryan Field crowd. Now, at 5-0, even if it was a “weak” 5-0, Northwestern has started to generate some positive momentum from casual fans and students. That’s a major step in the right direction. Therefore, the fact that Northwestern can realistically start the basketball season 10-0 at least offers the same possibility of early momentum. Sure, it’ll will also potentially be an “weak” 10-0 and any loss (like losing to Minnesota would have been) might be considered a bad loss, but I’d like to confident that like their football counterparts, NU’s men’s basketball squad is reaching for a point where they avoid such bad losses.

Another advantage to good football and basketball starts comes in recruiting. High School kids have short attention spans. They don’t watch every play of a game very often and sometimes don’t watch games at all. Instead, they go on-line and look at highlights, polls, and blogs. What they’re seeing now is a 5-0 Northwestern football team that might find a way to crack the top-25 in the coaches’ poll in the next two weeks. If NU starts the basketball season as successfully, it might generate some much needed energy in recruiting. Now, that might be more hope than fact, but it is possible. Of course, a poor start against a weak schedule could have the opposite result. Bottom line, I know people are disappointed about the schedule, but consider how good it feels to see the football team 5-0 and building momentum towards a successful Big Ten season. Basketball could do the same thing based on the schedule they have setup.