This Northwestern team has managed to play more consistently hard than probably any in the Bill Carmoday era since they suffered an embarrassing defeat to Minnesota. However, tonight’s loss to Indiana simply shows that Northwestern just isn’t good enough to realistically expect to beat high level teams other than an occasional miracle upset such as when they beat Michigan State because Davide Curletti, who tonight didn’t attempt a shot, scored 17 points.
I said earlier this season that the only place Northwestern was an NCAA Tournament team was Fantasy Island and though it seemed we all were about to get on a plane to go there when the ‘Cats ran off three consecutive wins, I think I was in fact correct in that pronouncement. Sure, this wasn’t a game Northwestern was expected to win by anyone (myself included) but as it turned out all Northwestern needed to do in order to win it was grad a couple more rebounds, get an occasional stop in man-to-man defense, and not turn the ball over. Of course, those are just basic basketball skills, but Northwestern couldn’t do any of three. The Rivals.com message boards got in an uproar the other day because someone posted about who would replace Bill Carmody as head coach and some of the more ardent Carmody supporters went nuts because NU had won three of fours games. The fact is, though, that in 12 years Bill Carmody hasn’t been able to field a team that can consistently rebound or play man-to-man defense. That’s bad and I challenge anyone to say it isn’t.
What he has been able to do is craft an offense that gives NU the best chance to win games, especially when they don’t turn the ball over. In fact, I’d strongly argue that whoever replaces Carmody (if he’s replaced) keep the Princeton Offense as NU’s primary offense. The trouble over NU’s last two games has been NU has turned the ball over and missed getting shots. Since NU can’t rebound, they can’t afford to have possessions where they don’t get a shot as happens when the ball gets turned over. I put a lot of the blame for that on Davide Curletti. Curletti? You might ask. Yes, Curletti I might respond. There were at least three times tonight (and several in the Purdue game as well) when Northwestern turned the ball over after Curletti passed up a wide open shot. I’m sorry, but he’s a college basketball player. He has to take an open 17 foot shot or just go sit on the bench and we’ll play 6-4 Reggie Hearn at center, at least he’ll shoot the ball. You can’t play 4-on-5 on offense in the Big Ten. That’s killed Northwestern several times. It’s made so much worse by the fact that Curletti was the key offensive weapon in NU’s biggest win of the year. What happened?
Aside from blaming the fact that Curletti can’t play offense, I’m also blaming NU’s man-to-man defense. The 1-3-1 zone was as good tonight as it could have been given the opponent, but the Wildcats couldn’t get a stop in the man-to-man to save their lives (or at least their NCAA Tournament lives). Rebounding? It was bad too. I don’t know what else to say. I know some Indiana guys jump high than some NU guys, but come on Northwestern, at least get in the way of the white jersey on the way to the basket! That was terrible.
The odds are that despite their current 5-8 Big Ten record that Northwestern will somehow scrape together three more Big Ten wins. An 8-10 conference record is probably going to land NU a seed on the #1 or #2 line in the NIT. That’ll position the ‘Cats with several home games and really good shot at the semi-finals in New York. It’s not the NCAA Tournament, but it would be the best postseason spot NU ever entered. I guess that’ll have to be good enough because the problem is that until Northwestern learns to play man-to-man defense and rebound Mr. Roarke and Tattoo will remain the only people likely to see NU play in the NCAA Tournament.
P.S. John Shurna is the best player I've seen at NU by far.