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.

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