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.