The biggest debate in NU fan circles in the last week surrounded Bill Carmody’s contract extension. True, the extension actually got signed in the fall, but its announcement midseason made Carmody’s future contract status a worthwhile discussion point. I wrote a long opus on Carmody earlier in the week and I stand by the positives I mentioned about him. However, he completely mishandled the end of both games vs Michigan State. I hope I’m wrong, but I see Carmody’s performance in the two games vs MSU this year as possibly costing Northwestern the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State isn’t a very good team. Sorry Spartan fans, but beating Wisconsin on a miracle finish and beating Northwestern because in Evanston Carmody forgot John Shurna was hurt and then today because he forgot he had multiple remaining timeouts isn’t anything to be proud of. If NU had beaten MSU twice (which they absolutely should have) then Michigan Stat would probably be ticketed for about eight Big Ten wins and NU might have got even many as 11 or 12. Now, MSU will sneak out 10 or so because they have some freakish athletes and Kalin Lucas at point guard and NU will be looking at another season with at best 10 Big Ten victories, but probably more like eight and, if lucky, a road game in the NIT.
Twice (and maybe three times, but I'm giving Izzo credit for getting his guys to foul on the last offesnsive possession) Bill Carmody, who is an excellent offensive coach, passed up the opportunity to call timeout and draw up a play and Northwestern looked like the Washington Generals trying to run offense. With ten seconds left in the game and TWO timeouts remaining Carmody let Juice Thompson dribble towards the corner (I have no idea what he planned to do once he got there) and Thompson traveled on the way there (see the comments section for my list of great Carmody play calls which he should have called a TO and gone back to). Then with about the same amount of time left in OT and THREE timeouts left Carmody let NU play on despite the Wildcats looking lost on offense and John Shurna, who was clearly hurting, was forced to throw up a 25-foooter which didn’t hit a thing. I honestly believe that Bill Carmody is offensive genius. In my heart and in my mind I KNOW if that he calls timeout when Thompson is brining the ball up the court in the game’s last ten seconds that NU gets a shot they can make and wins the game 62-60 preventing the contest from even going to overtime. For some reason, though, Carmody refused to do what he does the best. The worst part is this isn’t the first time. In 2006 Carmody’s mediocre Wildcats had a chance to pull off a major upset of Ohio State as Sterling Williams took the ball down the court with about ten seconds left. Instead of calling a timeout, Carmody let the freshman Williams try to drive, but Williams panicked and tried to pass to a well covered Bernard Cote and Ohio State got away with the win. I don’t know what Carmody’s problem was that day or what it was today. Did he think he’d need the timeout in OT? I think what makes that OSU loss and this loss even worse for me is I do think Carmody is a smart coach who if he’d done his job probably would have had his team pull off the upset. All the people who think Carmody is a clown probably just shrug their shoulders and move on after these defeats because they don’t think he’s capable, but the I know he is.
The failure of NU’s leadership today wasn’t just Carmody, though. Juice Thompson did some nice things and finished with 15 points, but his inexplicable drive to the corner at the end of the game didn’t help his coach.
NU obviously had some nice moments or they wouldn’t have been in the game. Drew Crawford had a big second half which kept NU battling the Spartans and finished with 16 points. It's just too bad that Crawford's errant pass in OT when NU was up three with the ball and chance to put serious distance between themselves and the Spartans was picked by Draymond Green (who was the game's MVP by far) started MSU's OT run. Even Luka Mirkovic stepped up and scored 10 second half points when he found himself one-on-one with MSU’s post defenders. I do wish Luka could have hit one more free throw or not had as many dumb travels, but he did play better than he looked like he would in the first half. JerShon Cobb played good defense and got several key rebounds and Alex Marcotullio played well on defense as well. In the first half all the Wildcats really played great defense, in the second half MSU was more aggressive and the ‘Cats defense kind of suffered, but I still liked the overall effort from NU. They played and coached well for most of the game, but not enough of it.
In the end, though, this game came down to poor choices from Carmody and Thompson. This is why sometimes I just hate being a Northwestern fan. It seems like whenever the game has nationally relevancy or the ‘Cats can seriously position themselves to do something special something goes wrong or somebody (usually the guy you’re the biggest fan of) does something stupid and the game is lost. I had a friend who said recently that he was going to change his NFL allegiance, he felt so much frustration with the Redskins that he threw out all his ‘Skins gear and bought Bears stuff. Unfortunately, I can’t do that for NU. My parents starting dragging me to NU contests before I even really understood what basketball was, I think I was mostly just excited to eat a soft pretzel. At some point, though, my joy at eating the soft pretzel gave way to my joy of cheering the efforts of guys like Kevin Rankin, Evan Eschmeyer, Jitim Young, and Vedran Vukusic. Even as they struggled and I found myself sitting in an increasingly empty or dominated by visiting fans Welsh-Ryan Arena, I always told people that I was sticking with the ‘Cats because suffering through all the painful losses would make the joyous occasion when NU made the NCAA Tournament all the more meaningful to me. Some part of me still believes, but another part of me is looking at Kevin Coble’s departure, John Shurna’s ankle, and now Bill Carmody and Michael Thompson’s brain cramps and I’m starting to doubt the NCAA Tournament is possible for Northwestern. Ever. Am I being too fatalistic? Perhaps. But it’s not just recent events. It’s everything from Rex Walters’s problems with geography, to Evan Eschmeyer’s foot, to Nick Knapp’s ailing heart that has left this broken hearted Wildcat still hoping to see NU in the Big Dance, but finding less and less reason to make an honest case that it’s possible.