Despite my frustrations with this year’s edition of Northwestern’s men’s basketball team I still intend to watch them play Penn State on Sunday at 2:30 and you should as well. Look, I’m about the worst loser in the world. I mean I’ll be respectful of my opponent and everything, but when teams I’m on or that I coach or that I really passionately root for lose, I’m almost physically ill at the thought. I can’t stand the emotion of failure or the empty feeling you get walking out an arena as the loser. Often times that emotional combo translates into anger—especially in regards to teams I cheer for because the total lack of control over the result also factors into my frustration. I think I have from time to time demonstrated that frustration here on this blog. At times it gets directed at the coaching staff and at other times various players. In regards to the coaching staff, I’m not going to try not to make any major judgments on them till the season ends, but I do have a couple general thoughts.
I think the posters over at Wildcat Report who blindly praise Bill Carmody and would even find an excuse for him if he committed a major felony and the people who rip him for everything up to and including his choice of beverage are both wrong. Carmody is fine basketball coach, but honestly he isn’t going on the Mount Rushmore of hoops coaches anytime soon, however, his administration at NU isn’t exactly the basketball version of Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency either. Truth be told, if you want to use a presidential analogy, Carmody will probably be like Harry Truman. He might leave with more negative than positive feelings amongst his constituents (aka the NU fans), but history will prove he had a strong positive impact on the course of Wildcat Nation.
In regards to Sunday’s game, this is the type of situation which the Wildcat football team addresses with the moniker W.I.N at the top of their values pyramid. That stands for “What’s Important Now” and it stresses one’s lack of control over the past and the importance of focusing on what you can control in the present. Northwestern lost to Michigan. I now don’t really care if the cause was poor coaching, poor playing, poor officiating, or the rising national debt. What matters now is that Northwestern is about to play Penn State—a team they CAN beat. I don’t know if PSU is a team NU will beat, but the Lions aren’t exactly the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers either.
Whether or not Jeff Brooks plays (or plays well--he might still be hurt due to his shoulder) for PSU will be a factor. If Brooks plays PSU has three guys who are tall, very athletic, and call all run picks and rolls even better than Michigan’s Jordan Morgan. Brooks is also PSU’s best rebounder and NU’s been prone to allowing extra points on the glass. If Brooks doesn’t play, the front court duo of Andrew Jones and David Jackson is still good, but Brooks brings another dimension, especially on defense where he is an excellent shot blocker.
Penn State’s best player is Talor Battle. The do everything guard is one of a handful of Penn State players who has the ability to get hot from long range and carry his team to big wins. He did so vs Wisconsin earlier in the year and has done so vs NU in the best. Jackson is also a good shooter and since NU tends to make average at best guys look like All-Americans, I’d worry about jump shooting forward Billy Oliver. He could be the next Josh Gasser or Jordan Morgan vs NU’s defense optional style of play.
I liked when Northwestern went back to their quick pace in the second half vs Michigan, but I think they have to slow it down vs Penn State. Penn State can be explosive and slowing down the game should reduce their explosiveness. However, if NU slows down the game they have to hit the glass. In a low possession game second chances count for a lot. NU was in the game vs Ohio State and Illinois because the game was slow AND they got second chances. Versus Michigan, NU gave away a ton of second looks to Michigan when playing slow and that was what got them in such a hole early.
I really do think NU has a shot in this game, but Penn State is at home and after suffering two losses really needs a win. Maybe NU is getting them while they’re vulnerable, but history doesn’t really make it look that way. NU hasn’t won at Penn State in almost ten years and while I hope the streak ends on Sunday, I don’t think that’s where the smart money goes. I predict: Penn State, 77 Northwestern, 67