Monday, August 30, 2010

Wildcats Win! 67-61 Victory Starts Tour of Italy

I'll have a more detailed recap up sometime later, but for now know NU won its first game of the Italy trip 67-61. John Shurna and Drew Crawford led NU, but it seemed almost everybody on the roster got to play. My biggest worry is lack of points from the center spot, but we've still got time to deal with that issue.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Game Week for Football and Basketball

It’s game week for both NU football and basketball. This usually doesn’t happen until November and then football usually totally dominates the news as the basketball game is often versus a lower tier non-conference team. Now, I still expect the prep for Northwestern’s football season opener at Vanderbilt to get more attention than NU’s basketball tour through Italy, but I think NU fans will learn about from the ‘Cats Italian journey.

According the reports on, the ‘Cats have arrived in Italy and have enjoyed some sight-seeing and great food, but according to Reggie Hearn’s blog, they still realize they are there to play basketball. While the quality of the Italian competition still remains to be determined, I think NU will get a lot out of the trip. At least as a fan I know I’ll have some questions answered. I want to see what starting lineup Coach Carmody uses and I want to see how JerShon Cobb plays against a level of opponent superior to what he faced in high school. I also want to see how Carmody manages his rotation. Is he looking to be a potentially deep team or will Mike Capocci, Ivan Peljusic, and Nick Fruendt have minor roles once again? This trip will give us answers a couple months earlier than we otherwise would have had them. If you’re an NU fan you should step away from the football hype at least long enough to find out.

For the record, I am excited about football. I’ve seen a wide range of predictions for the ‘Cats this season. Some have NU in the Big Ten’s top three and others have them in the bottom three. I personally expect a pretty good team. I believe Dan Persa is the type of player a team wins with as their leader and when you look at NU’s offense you see NFL talent in Al Netter and Drake Dunsmore. NU’s defense might seem more suspect, but I think Corbin Bryant might prove as good or better than NU’s past defensive line stars and I’m excited to see if Jared Carpenter lives up to his hype. If he does NU’s defensive front will have the needed support in the backfield and Mike Hankwitz should be able to breakout his wide array of various schemes.


Basketball – Monday 1:30 PM CT

Football – Saturday 6:30 PM CT

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Carmody, Coble, and Juice

The Wildcats will soon be on their way to Italy, but last week’s biggest story wasn’t NU preparing for the trip. It was an article in the Chicago Tribune which hinted that Wildcat point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson wanted to ask his former teammate Kevin Coble to return to the team, but hadn’t discussed the issue with his coach, Bill Carmody. This of course got a lot of attention from fans who seemed to decide that Carmody hadn’t addressed Coble’s departure with the team and needed to do so quickly. I disagree.

All Carmody would accomplish by addressing Coble’s departure would be to force his team to dwell on what they don’t have. The fact is Coble isn’t coming back no matter what Thompson might hope. NU needs to focus on the players they have and not a player they do not.

I agree that a healthy Kevin Coble would help Northwestern win, but it seemed pretty clear from Coble’s press release he was done. We don’t know the exact reason, but it seems to be a situation where Coble’s injury rehab hasn’t been as quick as hoped. It is entirely possible he might not even have been healthy for the season. That’s frustrating for Kevin, his teammates, his coaches, and fans. But Northwestern basketball has to start to focus elsewhere. Let’s remember Northwestern won 20 games last season without Coble. While NU probably should have won more than those 20 games, they didn’t lose many games because of Coble’s absence. They lost because they couldn’t play defense. Now, I have to say Coble might have made up for some defensive lapses by providing more points than Jeremy Nash. Still, I don’t think anyone is going to say that Coble would have been any better than Nash and the rest of last year’s team at fighting through screens when playing switching man-to-man.

So we can all agree Coble’s offensive talent will be missed, but what would Carmody talk about in addressing Coble’s departure? What would he say? I assume the players are all well aware that they’re losing an All-Big Ten player, but I don’t think having their coach remind them of that fact would be smart. If Carmody discusses how awful it is they don’t have Coble he basically tells the rest of the team they aren’t good enough to win without Coble. He also is telling at least one starter the only reason he’s a starter is because Coble left (even if that’s true it’s not a smart move for the player’s psychology). If he tells the team they don’t need Coble to win and that Coble’s a quitter that’s very disrespectful and will offend Coble’s friends on the team (yes, despite the fact Coble was something of a loner he did/does have friends on the team). Basically, the only smart move for Carmody is to address the team he has in the gym to practice and do his best to make them better. If Thompson talks to Coble and Coble gets healthy and returns, Carmody isn’t going to object, but as the coach Carmody has to deal in reality and build up the players he has.

Friday, August 13, 2010

NU Confirms New Football Unis and Fitz TV Show

NU could once again wear black pants with purple tops in home games.

Big news from NU today was the confirmation of new football uniforms for Northwestern which bring back the Northwestern striping along with the return of black pants which didn’t go so well last time they were worn by NU, but actually were NU’s standard road attire in the 2000 season and that means they were in fashion for the 47-44 OT win in Madison and the “Victory Right” game against Minnesota. Therefore, I think the black pants have taken something of a bad rap due to their most recent appearances. I also think bringing some black back into the uniform isn’t a bad idea. Much of the NU products available feature black as does much of the NU coaches’ gear, so I’m not surprised to see it added to the football uniform.

Now the bigger news from the perspective of basketball is the news Pat Fitzgerald will have a half hour TV program on each week. Back in NU’s Big Ten Title winning seasons of 1995, 1996, and 2000 Gary Barnett and Randy Walker had television programs as did hoops coaches Ricky Byrdsong and Kevin O’Neill. I have no idea if a Fitz show means a Bill Carmody show, but Fitz having a show at least makes it somewhat more likely Carmody could have one in the future if not this season. Honestly, I think Bill Carmody would probably be the prefect coach for a TV show because I have a feeling his show would be very different from other coaches’ TV shows. Most of these coach shows are highlights and positive vibes and basically total spin. Basically totally boring to watch, but as a fan you still watch anyway. I have a feeling Bill Carmody taking his “tell it like it is” approach on to TV would offer a different kind of show. A more interesting show. Carmody has never been one to spin a loss or sugarcoat bad play and I really respect him for that. The man is brutally honest even when it sometimes gets fans upset with him. Look at the firestorm on the message boards whenever he admits he’s not sure about something. The truth is every coach isn’t sure about things at times, but no one else is honest enough to say so.

Carmody’s also very funny with a very quick wit and would no doubt be entertaining to watch. In fact, I think Carmody’s wit would appeal strongly to the type of player NU wants to recruit. With NU recruiting smart kids, they should be the types that can see that most coaches’ shows are just infomercials for a team. Basically, a political ad with basketball highlights. I think a Bill Carmody’s honesty and frankness would standout to the type of recruits NU wants as an appealing characteristic for a potential head coach. Now, will NU give Carmody a show? I have no idea. But the other Big Ten basketball coaches have them and with NU putting together a production team for a show for Fitz, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t use that same team to produce a show for Carmody.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It’s Almost…Basketball Season

Yes, you saw that right. Despite all the excitement over the start of football, the truth is that basketball is much closer than most people realize. Thanks to Northwestern’s trip to Italy, the Wildcats get 10 practices stateside before they depart for Europe. With those coming up just about a week, I wanted to highlight a couple goals I believe the ‘Cats need to focus on in those practices and perhaps the games as well. After all, though, playing games against other teams is a great compared to just scrimmaging each other, the games NU plays in Italy are really just an extension of preseason practice.

Goal 1 - Find a small forward: We know who was supposed to play that spot, but he’s gone. That means someone else has to step up. The smart money is on JerShon Cobb, but don’t be surprised if we see a lot of three guard sets with Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio playing side by side.

Goal 2 – Get consistent at the center spot: Luka Mirkovic might have been the Big Ten’s most inconsistent player last year. He primarily played well in Evanston and bad on the road. Davide Curletti wasn’t much better and Ivan Peljusic has spent his whole career showing moments of brilliance, but never translating those to an extended run of success. If NU is going to ever going to make any sort of postseason run they’ll need something resembling a consistent option in the paint.

Goal 3 – Find the team’s best defense: I think NU used the 1-3-1 so much last year because they simply couldn’t play anything else. NU wasn’t quick enough to play true man-to-man and wasn’t aggressive enough to fit through screens in the switching man-to-man/2-3 zone hybrid they tried at other times. Perhaps with this early start to things NU can find a defense which will truly given NU a consistent ability to shutdown other teams.

Goal 4 – Find a way to rest Juice Thompson for at least 5 minutes a game: Juice Thompson is great, but if he could rest for five minutes in the first half he’d be even better and fresher at the end of games. Somehow, NU needs to find someone to make this happen.

Goal 5 – Get prepared to play with urgency: Often times last season Northwestern would only play one half of a game hard. Usually that was the second half after falling behind in the first half. Sometimes that was enough to win, but other times not. Even with Kevin Coble gone, this is still NU’s best chance to make the NCAA Tournament ever. It might be NU’s last chance under Head Coach Bill Carmody. Yes, Coble left and that leaves Carmody short a key player, but a lot people have put the NCAA Tournament or bust label on Carmody this year and even without Coble I think it might stick.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Northwestern Marketing Hits Media: Hope for a Georgia Tech Sellout?

Is NU reusing an old idea in the new marketing campaign?

Northwestern has launched a new marketing campaign that started just a week ago and begins in full force just as football starts and single game football tickets go on sale. This campaign right now is obviously focused on football, but one has to assume we will see basketball related marketing as well. Interestingly, the campaign touting Northwestern as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” is very similar to a past campaign from the start of the last decade (see picture above). Some people have objected to this. Basically, they feel that NU is trying to repeat a failed strategy. I somewhat disagree. Yes, NU has tried to hit on being a “Chicago” team before. However, Northwestern really hasn’t ever spent a great deal of money in marketing. That is changing. I’ve seen full page ads in the paper, radio spots, and billboards which will be up year round. That’s a far cry from the past then NU basically didn’t market outside of the NU community. If NU is every going to truly make a dent in a very competitive media market in Chicago, it is important that NU be visible on a regular basis. Having daily ads helps with this a great deal. It also probably isn’t a coincidence that this campaign is occurring in the same year NU is scheduled to play football at Wrigley Field. No place in Chicago says Chicago sports more than Wrigley and so NU is trying buy some Chicago goodwill from that move as well. With season ticket sales up a reported 30% perhaps it is already working.

The question, though, is will those sales be consistent next season and will anybody who bought football tickets this year because of the Wrigley game be motivated to buy basketball tickets as well. Well, one good thing for marketing basketball is you’ve got a ton of potential basketball season ticket buyers at football games. When you consider that a crowd of even 20,000 is about three times NU’s average attendance in basketball that means that somehow if NU could make just 3,000 of those 20,000 football fans into hoops fans Welsh-Ryan could be sold out every game. Sure, some football fans have other issues which allow them to make Saturday football games and not make basketball games, but out of the multitudes of NU football fans who don’t come to basketball games at least a few thousand must exist who could come, they just aren’t motivated to do so yet. One suggestion I do have is that I’d like to see NU’s big basketball matchups promoted during football games. It’s hard to sell the Chicago State game, but it can’t be that hard to sell fans on watching ACC runner up and NCAA Tournament qualifier Georgia Tech. If Northwestern was smart they would make a concentrated effort to sellout the Georgia Tech game (Nov. 30th 6PM CT ESPN2) during football season. I’d like to see ads for tickets during timeouts or maybe even a deal for tickets to that game for season ticket holders. That game will most likely be the jewel of NU’s non-conference schedule and it’s on national TV. Aside from how having a sellout crowd would help energize the team. Seeing a packed gym on TV would also impress recruits in a critical recruiting year.

Getting fans in the stands is a start and the next key is getting them to comeback. The other great thing about trying to pack the place with football fans for Georgia Tech is that it will probably be a great game with a good atmosphere (similar to top football games). Experiencing that atmosphere would hopefully make those people comeback. I’d also love to see NU football season ticket holders who aren’t basketball season ticket holders bombarded with ticket package deals. For example, a Big Ten game only package or a package that has the Tech game along with Michigan State and Illinois. Something that at least gets large pro-NU crowds in Welsh-Ryan for key games. Bottom line, building a larger fan base for football might be an achievable goal long term, but doing so for basketball should be even easier. Hopefully NU will have saved some money to try and make that happen. Personally, I encourage everyone to try and get your non-basketball fan friends to buy Georgia Tech tickets. When Georgia Tech (and ESPN2) arrive in Evanston on Nov. 30th let’s have them see a sea of purple.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NU's Most Important Player

Kevin Coble’s departure (should we call it retirement?) from basketball has made many national writers once again declare NU’s tournament hopes DOA. Four national writers at all said NU has basically no chance to make the tournament. They cite a tough Big Ten and Coble’s presence (or lack of) on offense as their primary reasons. NU fans, though, still hold out hope. Perhaps the reason is that as NU fans know Coble wasn’t NU’s most important player. NU will still field a strong front court with John Shurna, JerShon Cobb, and Luka Mirkovic. They’ll also have decent backups in Ivan Peljusic, Jeff Ryan and Davide Curletti. Where NU is very thin, though, is in the backcourt. That’s why it seems clear that Juice Thompson is truly NU’s most important player.

Last year Thompson was second on NU with 14.2ppg and led the team by making 41.1% of his threes and 82.9% of his free throws. Even more important, Juice is second all-time at NU in assists and has been the Wildcats point guard for three seasons. Last year whenever anybody else handled the ball it was hit or miss in terms of avoiding turnovers, but Thompson posted 139 assists against only 59 turnovers despite the fact that he played virtually every minute of every game. If NU had lost Thompson last year I doubt they would have won 10 games. Coble didn’t play at all last year and NU still won 20. Yes, NU won’t have Coble this year, but they can still get to 20 wins again. The key to breaking past 20 wins and making the NCAA tournament is going to be the same (or even better) play from Thompson because once again NU is limited at point guard. At least Jeff Ryan should give NU someone else who can handle the ball, but Ryan’s poor free throw shooting means that Juice has to play in the clutch because he’s the guy coaches and fans are going to want with the ball when a team is fouling and sending NU to the line hoping for a collapse. Having seen NU collapse a number of times over the year, I can’t being to describe how valuable it is that Juice can make free throws under pressure even if he’s played the game’s first 39 minutes. He also is probably the NU guard best suited to find guys like Drew Crawford or John Shurna if pressure comes his way. A less experienced point guard might throw the ball to Luka Mirkovic or Davide Curletti and while those two aren’t awful free throw shooters or ball handlers, I don’t think Coach Carmody really wants them at the line down the stretch or trying to dribble down the court vs Michigan State's press.

Bottom line, Kevin Coble will be missed, but Juice Thompson is the player that really makes NU a good team. It’ll be great to watch him for one more season and I really hope NU’s class of 2011 point guards, Tre Demps and David Soblewski, can live up to the standard he sets.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

5th Year Seniors Can Still Make an Impact

Ivan Peljusic is one of two fifth-year seniors still on NU's roster.
Most fans looked to Kevin Coble to be NU’s leader as a 5th-year senior, but with his departure the Wildcats will have to look elsewhere for leadership. Certainly, not having Coble’s on court statistical leadership hurts NU, but the Wildcats have two other fifth year seniors who will be able to provide some leadership on and off court. Those two players are Jeff Ryan and Ivan Peljusic and both will probably see increased playing time with Coble gone as well.

The most obvious way Jeff Ryan will be able to make an impact and see playing time will be rotating in as a backup point guard. Though many fans are frustrated by Northwestern’s reliance on the 1-3-1 zone the truth is when played correctly it is a very tough zone to beat. The problem is that when the Wildcats play that zone for the majority of the game teams adjust to it easily. It also hasn’t helped that NU has been forced to use Juice Thompson on the baseline. Thompson is quick enough to get out of shooters, but at less than 6-feet people can still shoot over him. If NU uses the 2-3 zone more often, but goes 1-3-1 when Ryan comes in it could be a great changeup defense for the ‘Cats because with Ryan in the game the Wildcats would have the perfect player to use at the base of the 1-3-1. Ryan has the quickness to get out on shooters and is tall enough to play a little better defense than Juice when the ball gets into an opponent’s center.

Peljusic’s increased playing time comes not only from Coble’s exit, but from Kyle Rowley’s as well. I expect Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti to get most of the minutes at center, but without Coble the Wildcat front court got a lot thinner. The athletic and enthusiastic Peljusic is probably one of NU’s best rebounders now and he has some instincts when it comes to scoring points. His biggest problem is inconsistency and his tendency to play outside the system. Nonetheless, I think he’ll make an impact as a sub for John Shurna and perhaps Mirkovic given the right matchup.

Jeff Ryan might actually play some as a backup for Shurna or NU’s other forward (most likely JerShon Cobb) as well. At 6-6 with the ability to jump Ryan can play against most front court players. He also has solid quickness to backcut against in overplay, but he has in the past had trouble finishing at the hoop or converting free throws. It is important he improve in these areas if he wants to play at small forward or power forward as a backup this season.

Finally, both Peljusic and Ryan have shown themselves to be very valuable to a team’s attitude in how they handle themselves on the court. Peljusic is very famous for as Coach Carmody once said, “Rising his hands like it’s the Final Four every time he makes a shot.” Some fans don’t like that, but for a team that often lacks emotion, I think Peljusic’s outward and enthusiasm and Ryan’s clear understanding of where to be at what point in NU’s complex offense will help provide leadership for at team which likely will have only one senior starter in Juice Thompson.