Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spartans Prevail in OT and Hand NU 4th Conference Loss: Hope Crushing Defeat Might Have Been The Result of Uncalled TOs

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.


macarthur31 said...

Sorry Ryan, I'll disagree with you on the last play of regulation. I'll take Juice in scramble mode with 7 seconds to go every time. The game is tied, and have to trust my "coach on the floor" every time. Why let MSU set up a defense, or use their length to make an inbounds play difficult? (Particularly when you have to be stationary on a OOB play.)

Finally, what Juice turnover are you talking about? You must be referring to Drew Crawford to Luka Mirkovic that was picked by Draymond Green. Juice had ONE turnover all game. He played 40 minutes had ONE freakin' turnover.

(BTW, Did you notice he tried calling time out with 4.8 seconds to go in OT, but the refs didn't see him?)

I don't know how you can totally hang this loss on Carmody. He worked the 1-3-1/switching man combo quite masterfully. We limited MSU to 24% Offensive boards when they were 36.8% coming into this game. Why did Crawford get loose in the last 10 minutes? Cause Carmody ran a set that worked Crawford off low screens.

I'm not saying he's perfect, but I think he made reasonable calls down the stretch that didn't work out. At the same time, he made calls that put us in a great position to win. Would I liked him to go at Draymond Green when he had 4 fouls? Sure -- but I don't know what offensive set would've pulled that off since our Centers aren't that adept at drawing those kind of fouls.

Credit to MSU for hitting 85.7% from FT down the stretch (when they averaged 69% all game). Credit for them to always crashing the boards and somehow not getting called for over the back when it matters. They hit the key 3s. This was a good back and forth game. It sucks to lose, but I don't know if you totally can pin this on Juice and Carmody.

Ryan said...

It was Crawford I just didn't look close enough the first time and assumed Juice would have been the one with ball. We'll have to agree to disagree about the end of the game. I think once the ball got across half court with two timeouts you should call a TO, espeically if you've shown a great ability to call out of bounds plays that win games (go back to Seton Hall in 2006 for a great example or the Michael Jenkins game or Purdue Moore's freshman year and many more). If KO was NU's coach I'd have a different theory. I liked the 1-3-1 and as I've said I'm basically a fan of Carmody as a coach. I'll even say he (and the team) did a lot of good today, but I don't agree with how he (and they) finished the game. And while I see your point about him trying to get the TO with 4.8 seconds left it was clear that last possession was going nowhere with NU having terrible spacing and I think calling a TO would have been the right choice. But that's just me and the part of the fun of sports is that people can see the same thing and have different points of view.

macarthur31 said...

Right on.

I would've liked the TO when Crawford fumbled the pass on the wing, because at that point they did cycle through their set twice, and they didn't get anything. So I do agree that a TO would've been beneficial there.

At the sametime, I thought we struggled with inbounds plays today because of MSU's length and athleticism. I'd think that if Carmody was confident his charges could run it given MSU's length, crowd noise, etc, then he would've ran a timeout to get that play in.

I'm still trying to rationalize why Luka was in during that in-bounds play prior to him getting fouled. Occam's Razor would suggest that Carmody botched it, and I can accept that. However, it's not like Carmody wasn't aware of subbing in and out -- he was putting Curletti/Mirkovic in on rebounding situations, and did sub in Marcotullio on a previous possession. The only way that move makes sense is that he thought that Mirkovic was an option he could live with given that he was already within the flow of the game (as opposed to cold off the bench like a Capocci or then Marcotullio) -- or that Mirk was supposed to dump off right away, but couldn't pull it off. Whatever the intention, execution was still lacking.

Keep up the great work with the blog, and don't lose faith. It seems weird, but I actually have more faith in our team because we've now gone into three tough road environments and kept our poise in 2 of them. We know we can play both switching man and 1-3-1 to disrupt our opponents, and 1-4 can hit the trey (Juice, Shurna, Cobb, Crawford). And if Curletti takes some confidence in this game, then we've got some good stuff to build on the remainder of the way.

Glenn said...

Oh man. I had somehow blocked out that that Sterling Williams moment until you just reminded me of it.

Love the blog.

Ryan said...

@Glenn...Sorry and thanks.