Wednesday, February 27, 2013

'Cats Need to Have Some Fun vs OSU

The Pope is resigning for the first time in almost 600 years on Thursday and it seems about that long since Northwestern last beat Ohio State, but they’ve been amazingly close over the last few years. The last three games in Evanston (which actually do include NU’s 2009 win) have been decided in the final four seconds. Does that mean this game will be that close? I kind of doubt it, but I remain ever hopeful. Perhaps February 28, 2013 will be an historic day for several reasons. Some think the resignation of the Pope is a herald of the apocalypse, but I think a more accurate herald of the end of the world might be NU winning this game. So let’s go Catpocalypse!

NU, which has lost their last three games by 20-plus points and not scored more than 43 points in that stretch, will face an Ohio State team which features the Big Ten’s best scorer in DeShuan Thomas. The Buckeyes will also bring the Big Ten’s best defensive guard to Evanston in Aaron Craft. That means an NU team that can’t score will have to find a way to outscore Thomas and to score against Craft. The odds of both happening aren’t good.

The Buckeyes also will likely control the glass with the athletic skill of Chicago-product Sam Thompson and Zion-Benton native Lenzell Smith, Jr. Both players are very athletic and will be a major challenge for NU to defend both one-on-one but also when the ball goes off the rim for a rebound opportunity.

What can Northwestern do? Play fearless. It doesn’t matter what happens at this point if you’re Northwestern. The odds are you’re going nowhere as a team and your coach is probably going to be fired as long as the athletic director gets some indication from his chosen candidates that they’ve got some interest in the job. Of course, they may not and I don’t blame them. Besides, I think Bill Carmody probably deserves another year even if Jim Phillips (and many fans) don’t want to see it happen. Regardless, NU needs to play like it doesn’t matter what they do. Not an easy task for an athlete, but NU’s effort recently has been that of a team which is too scared and timid to be competitive. They look worried. Probably that they’ll cost the coach his job. At this point they’ve probably already done that so they might as well just play loose and aggressive and have some fun. Something that it seems clear NU hasn’t had for a very long time. It hasn’t been that long, but it seems about 600 years.

Prediction: I'd like to say I see Catpocalypse 2013 in our future, but I think OSU wins this game by 20-plus points 75-52.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Northwestern at Purdue: Does Anyone Care?

When Northwestern last played Purdue the Wildcats moved to 4-6 in the Big Ten with a couple winnable games on the horizon and still possessed an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. Now the ‘Cats travel to Purdue devoid of any NCAA hopes (save a run in the Big Ten Tournament) and coming off of four straight losses the last two of which were about the worst basketball NU could play. Purdue hasn’t been much better of late and as a result this becomes a game which is not of any great interest to fans. Honestly, I’m at a loss about what to think in regards to NU basketball. Last year was an emotional roller coaster with huge highs and lows, but at least the overall ride was enjoyable once you got to the end. Since that victory over Purdue this year has pretty much just been a downhill ride and one which (based on the attendance at Welsh-Ryan Arena) many fans have simply chosen to get off.

Because Purdue hasn’t been good of late either I kind of find myself optimistic about this game, but only kind of as the Illinois game last Sunday essentially destroyed my optimism for NU at this point. It’s just hard to watch or expect much from a team that has essentially stopped scoring. Nobody on the Wildcats has been able to hit a shot as of late and as a result they’ve really struggled. It also seems like the team tends to give up if shots don’t go in early which is why the scores of late have been so one sided.

Purdue hasn’t been much of a scoring threat lately either, but they do have center A.J. Hammons who can control the paint. NU gave up way too many offensive rebounds to Wisconsin on Wednesday and unless the ‘Cats can contain Hammons you can probably expect a similar result on Sunday. Alex Olah needs to get back in the starting lineup and I’d like to see Nikola Cerina get some meaningful PT as well. In the end, though, the ‘Cats will need offense from guys like Dave Sobolewski, Tre Demps, and Alex Marcotullio if they want to get a victory and end the losing streak. I don’t think it’ll happen.

Prediction: Purdue scores just enough to beat Northwestern. Purdue, 56 Northwestern, 46

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Now?

I don’t know. I’m really at a loss as to what to say about Northwestern basketball at this point. The team has lost their last two games in spectacularly bad fashion. Even worse it’s hard to imagine them competing against any team left on their schedule based on how they played in those two games. Even Penn State looks stronger than Northwestern at this point. The quick reaction people turn to is to fire the coach, but I think that window closed. I advocated firing Carmody in the past, but really I don’t think it’s fair to do so now and I think he’s earned the right to stay. After all even with the last two games he’s got NU at 13-14 overall. While not great that record is probably an accomplishment considering the team he has on the court.

I can’t figure out an answer as to what to do in order to get the team to win games. I don’t think its coaching at this point. The team that has played the last two games looked hopeless, but I find it hard to believe the coach told them to play that way. I guess we can blame the coach for not motivating his team, but if you’re a college athlete you should have some level of self-motivation. You couldn’t have reached that level without it. So while I guess you have to fault the coach a little bit, I think the players have to look in the mirror to truly see the source of the problem.

I also maintain the silence from NU’s administration when it comes to basketball doesn’t help, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change at any point in the near future. It’s frustrating and it is starting to take a toll on the fans. I have to be honest while I’ll still watch every game I’m running out of ideas of what to type here without repeating myself. I also wonder if anyone outside a few diehards really care about NU basketball. My guess is they don’t.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why can’t Jim Phillips firmly endorse the most successful coach in Northwestern history?

Last night I saw a team that looked like they didn’t have anything to play for. I think it is tied back to the fact that it’s looking more and more like AD Jim Phillips wants to fire Bill Carmody. An article ran in the Chicago Tribune before yesterday’s game which addressed the status of Bill Carmody’s career at Northwestern. When asked about Carmody’s future Phillips basically gave a non-answer. There is no way that didn’t impact a team that is pretty emotionally fragile right now as they continue to lose players and games.

Personally, despite last night’s horrible effort by his team I think Bill Carmody should return as NU’s basketball coach next season. That said I’m not one of the people that believes he’s the only coach in the world who could be successful at NU. I’m sure other coaches exist who could succeed. I just don’t think this is the time for them to take over. I do, however, acknowledge that I could be wrong on that and, more importantly, that it isn’t my decision to make. That decision is up to Northwestern A.D. Jim Phillips and as a result I have a request for Dr. Jim. Simply put:

Either fire Bill Carmody before Wednesday's game or give him a 100% endorsement to continue as NU’s coach for the foreseeable future.

You have to ask: Why can’t Phillips firmly endorse the most successful coach in Northwestern history? We’re now 26 games into a 31 game season and 13 years into Carmody’s
Northwestern tenure. A tenure in which he’s won more postseason games than any other NU coach
and in which he’s won more games than any NU coach since 1950. Again, why can’t Phillips answer
the question directly? The only possible reason I can think of is that he doesn’t want to strongly endorse Carmody because he intends to fire him. I really can’t figure out how any data obtained in the last five games of this season would make any difference whatsoever. The last five games from this team will most likely be bad. With all the injuries that have piled on over the course of this season it’s pretty clear to me Northwestern won’t be able to compete with the teams left on their schedule. The ‘Cats might sneak out a win vs a weak Penn State team or a collapsing Purdue team, but I seriously doubt they beat Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Michigan State.

So what’s Phillips doing? Sitting around secretly hoping NU loses all five so firing Carmody looks better? It’ll still look bad considering he was forced to play a good portion of the season without four of his top eight players. It’ll still look bad because the school invested $225 million into football but hasn’t ungraded the basketball arena in the last 30 years. It’ll still look bad because the admissions
office denied a 4.0 GPA student/point guard because of poor test scores and has forced Carmody to go exclusively with an increasingly bad Dave Sobolewski.

Yes, firing Bill Carmody will look bad for Dr. Jim, but it won’t look any better to wait till this season ends. In fact, it might look even worse. What happens if Carmody pulls off a miracle and upsets Ohio State or gets revenge on Illinois during the first round of the Big Ten Tournament? Then does Phillips keep him? Even if he doesn’t want to?

Look, I may be wrong, but I that the evidence suggests that Phillips wants to fire Carmody. Again, he’s got a enough data collected (again 26 games, 13 years) that no reason exists why he shouldn’t have been able to tell the Tribune on Sunday, “100% Bill Carmody will be back at NU next season and I’m confident he’ll be coaching NU’s first NCAA Tournament game just over a year from now.” No reason exists why he shouldn’t have said that unless he can’t say that because he doesn’t believe
it and if doesn’t I don’t see any reason to subject us to the Bill Carmody death march. Simply let him go on his way to pursue a broadcasting career or retirement and let the players have the opportunity to addition for the new coach by playing for an interim coach who will do his best to try and make sure he gets to keep the job even if that’s highly unlikely.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Northwestern Looks to Sweep Illinois

The Northwestern-Illinois series has been very competitive over the past several years. It's essentially been a sure thing to assume a split of the season series but NU hopes to record a rare sweep of their instate rivals tomorrow night.

Thinking about this game I see the NU defense as being the key. Sure, the Wildcats are down personnel and that leads to some offensive issues, but Thursday's game at Ohio State saw several Wildcats step up on offense. I was especially impressed with the second half of Kale Abrahamson who seemed to find his shooting stroke and made some nice inside moves as well. The 'Cats need some more production from the center position and they need Dave Sobolewski to hit a few more shots, but really the NU offense is good enough to beat Illinois. The problem is how do the 'Cats counter the Illini offense which has started to once again catch fire from three. The 2-3 NU used vs OSU was effective but probably isn't the best defense to use vs Illinois because the Illini can shoot better from the outside. The question becomes with their limited bench can NU play man to man and stay out of foul trouble? The Wildcats only used seven players vs OSU and won't have likely have more than nine vs Illinois so it would be helpful if NU were out of foul trouble. NU could try to play 1-3-1 and turnover Illinois which isn't a great ball handling team, but again that would risk the Illini catching fire from three.

Prediction: With that discussion of NU defense one has to at least consider Illinois's defense which wasn't good vs NU when the teams met last month. I tend to think it'll be better this time around. Will that be enough to turn around the score? Probably not be itself, but with good shooting it could very well be the difference. I think this game will be close. This NU team battles with as much intensity as any Wildcat squad I can remember and whatever else happens after Sunday night they have to know they have the potential to make history with the first season sweep of Illinois since 1966. While the odds are stacked against them I have a good feeling that this might be a Wildcat win, especially if the Wildside shows up and makes it uncomfortable for the Illini. They haven't shown up in big numbers yet this year, but a good student turnout and an NU win could give the 'Cats a nice bump with some winnable games coming up. Honestly, if NU doesn't win Sunday I don't think they win the rest of the year. Therefore, I'm saying Northwestern wins because they have to. Northwestern, 66 Illinois, 64

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Northwestern Gives Great Effort Ends Just a Little Short

I'm kind of at a loss for words on this one. Northwestern played a very good game vs Ohio State, but couldn't finish it out. Perhaps no play summed up the game more than a Reggie Hearn layup that hung on the rim for a seeming entirety when NU could have tied the game late, but it fell of the rim and NU fell to OSU.

The good from this game is notable. NU broke on a new 2-3 zone which was very effective. Some of the Wildcats young players such as new starters Mike Turner and Kale Abrahamson had very nice game. Nikola Cerina proved he can play at least a little bit. Tre Demps made several big shots. All those things are positives which are good for the future of NU hoops.

The negatives are less, but they do exist. NU got beat badly on the glass in the second half and that was a huge difference maker. They turned the ball over not to many times statically, but too many times to seriously expect to win such a game. Dave Sobolewski once again didn't really have a great game and neither did Alex Marcotullio. NU needs production from everyone with such a thin roster left. Also though he kept playing seeing Reggie Hearn go down with an injury wasn't good either.

I'm pleased with the effort, but I'm still pretty pissed at the basketball gods (small g). Nothing NU has endured this year has been fair and while I know life isn't fair sports are supposed to balance out. They're supposed to provide a fairness that life doesn't. Somebody owes NU a break.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NU Trying to Pull Biggest Upset Ever on Thursday

It’s Got to be a Curse.
I know rationale people aren’t supposed to believe in curses, but honestly I can’t think of any other explanation for what keeps happening to Northwestern basketball. The bad luck has become ridiculous over the past several years, but this year takes the cake. NU now has six players who are out for the season with the announcement today of Jared Swopshire’s season ending surgery. Alex Olah is out for at least the game vs Ohio State and it’s hard to know/when or if he’ll return given the uncertainty of brain injuries.
The Wildcats will now face a highly rated Ohio State team with essentially a six man team and nobody over 6-8. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kale Abrahamson at about 6-6 wasn’t the tallest Wildcat starter as I see no reason to start the highly ineffective Mike Turner. Other than only standing 6-3, Alex Marcotullio is a much better Princeton Offense center. He’s an excellent passer and a good enough shooter to be a threat from the top of the key. On defense NU can just play the 1-3-1 and hope Ohio State doesn’t go wild from three point range. On offense, without Olah and Swopshire NU wasn’t going to have an inside game anyway so why pretend. NU’s only shot at the upset would be a game where they make double-digit three pointers. I say why have Turner waste space when he can’t shoot when Marcotullio actually can serve as a threat. Sure, NU will be at a disadvantage rebounding when they don’t have Turner on the court, but it’s not as if he’s a dramatic difference maker. If NU made 14 threes in the game it would counter (or at least equal) Ohio State getting 20 offensive rebounds because threes count for more points than two point putbacks. Ohio State isn’t the greatest shooting team DeShaun Thomas, Lenzell Smith, and Aaron Craft can all hit shots, but they aren’t lights out three point shooters. If NU catches them all on an off day and produces some steals in the 1-3-1 they might be able to hang around in the contest.
However, I find when really good teams play NU they shoot even better than their season average. I think it is because the shooters shoot without fear because they know the odds are their teammates will rebound any miss. Seriously, wouldn’t you happily fire up threes if you knew there was no consequence to missing?  I think most players would. So in the end I suspect we’ll see Ohio State have one of their best shooting games in a game they probably don’t even if have to shoot that well to win. For the record if I were NU I’d start Sobolewksi, Demps, Hearn, Abrahamson, and Marcotullio. I guess my bench would pretty much just be Mike Turner with possible help from Nikola Cerina (if his injured ankle will allow) and walk-on James Montgomery III. That means of my eight possible players I’d have three freshmen, a sophomore, two chronically injured guys, and two (though one now has a scholarship) walk-ons. No hyperbole—if Northwestern wins it’s the biggest upset in college basketball history. I say OSU wins by 23 80-57.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Really Bad Day for NU

Northwestern lost to Iowa and while I think NU obviously could have played better the loss itself isn't the worst part of yesterday. The worst part is that NU lost forward Jared Swopshire for at least one game but very possibly longer. Swopshire's play has pretty much been the difference between wins and losses for NU so him being off the court is a serious concern. I'll be honest all I want from this season is NU to win enough games to play in the CBI. That postseason touranemnt will even take teams with losing records so I think winning three or four more games will be enough for the 'Cats to qualify. However, that was going to be a challenge anyway and now without Swopshire it'll be an even bigger challenge.

The only hope I have is that NU can beat anybody if they shoot well. The problem is as I've said before this NU team really doesn't have good shooters. They have streaky shooters who have good days, but there isn't any consistency. Also, it seems as if the team as a whole is kind of hit or miss. It has been rare for one guy to be on while others are off. Pretty much the 'Cats get good shooting from everyone or no one.

Northwestern also lost center Alex Olah yesterday when the game was still close. Clearly losing two of the five staters was what made NU go from fairly competitive to getting blown out. If Olah is also out for any length of time it's hard to envision NU having much success. Mike Turner hasn't played a good game in sometime and just seems overmatched. He was a reach in recuirting and regarded as a project and that project hasn't been successfully built thus far. NU does have Nikola Cerina but his health, conditioning, and attitude have all been questioned. Still, unless NU wants to play five guards it seems like those guys will have to do something the rest of the way.

Overall, it's a disappointment to lose a winnable game, but I'm more concerned with the big picture and that's getting the injured players back on the court sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Iowa and Northwestern Both Need a Win on Saturday

Iowa’s a team that doesn’t have a great record, but has the talent to be much better than their 3-7 Big Ten mark. In many ways they are like Northwestern last season in that they’ve suffered repeated close losses. They just can’t seem to make the key play at the end of a close game that turns a two point loss into a two point win. As a result, they enter Saturday’s matchup with Northwestern in the position of needing to secure a home win over a Wildcat team they dismantled in Evanston to keep their NCAA dreams alive. On the face of it one would assume this Hawkeye bunch will be very motivated, but you never know how a team will respond in a high pressure game. Especially after so many close defeats.

Northwestern is in a position which is similar yet different. The Wildcats are coming off a very nice 75-60 win over Purdue. In that contest the Wildcats got a career game from Reggie Hearn and solid contributions from virtually everyone else on the court including perhaps the best game of the year from freshman center Alex Olah. The lack of ability to be consistent has always been the thorn in the side of Northwestern as they try to make history and make the NCAA Tournament and that battle to be consistent has to be won in Iowa City if the ‘Cats have any plans of playing in the Big Dance.

I think NU will be able to count on Hearn who battled illness in his tough games vs Nebraska and Michigan. I also think they can count on Jared Swopshire to play a solid all-around game. But can they count on Olah, Tre Demps, and Dave Sobolewski to provide the offensive bunch needed to compete with the Hawkeyes? The key for NU will be getting those players off to a good start. That didn’t happen last year in Iowa City, but NU did manage a comeback which allowed them to narrowly defeat Iowa. In the past, though, NU has gotten off to solid starts in Iowa City. It is an arena which the Wildcats have some (recent) history of success and a place where they have shown the ability to run a clinic-like Princeton Offense. Getting off to a good start will be the key tomorrow. I think NU needs to try to get shots for Sobolewski and Olah early as both seem to do well if they have good starts. If they make early shots then NU will have a chance. Also, watch how Iowa defends Olah. Do they give him 15-footers all day or has he earned the respect from Big Ten teams so they defend him on the perimeter and allow backdoor cuts to open.

Iowa’s biggest issue this year has been shooting the ball, but against NU in Evanston they resolved that problem by having near double-digit dunks. It is hard to miss when you’re slamming the ball through the hoop. Aaron White is the Hawkeyes leading scorer and NU needs a good effort from Jared Swopshire to keep him off the glass. I think part of the reason for Iowa’s past success vs NU is that their shooters believed White would grab the offensive rebound if they missed (and probably dunk it) so they shot with total confidence. If Swopshire is beating White on the boards then NU’s odds of winning improve. NU will also need a good defensive effort from Reggie Hearn vs Roy Devyn Marble because with the way Iowa tore apart NU’s 1-3-1 zone last month it seems unrealistic that NU will play that defense even if Iowa isn’t a three point shooting team. Marble and Mike Gesell are really Iowa’s only realistic three point threats and I’d hope that NU keeps that in mind and the defenders on those guys are fighting through screens and getting hands in the shooters faces.

Prediction: This seems a pretty even game. I think it’s likely the type of contest which will turn on something like a player who doesn’t generally do much having a big game (look at Iowa’s Josh Oglesby and his 27% 3PT shooting as an example of someone who fits that mode or perhaps Alex Marcotullio will have a game where he hits three three for a quick nine points for NU) or the mental state of the two teams. NU should theoretically be a in a better place mentally, but amazingly at times they seem to become overconfident (see Nebraska). Iowa also does probably get an advantage in playing at home, though, as I noted earlier this group of NU players has had success in Iowa City. In the end this game is almost in impossible to predict with any certainty. It might be home bias, but somehow I think NU pulls off a narrow win in this one and gets payback for what Iowa did to them in Evanston. Northwestern, 62 Iowa, 60

Friday, February 1, 2013

Quick Purdue Prediction

Here's a quick prediction for the NU vs Purdue game tomorrow. I think Purdue center AJ Hammons will be handful for NU's Alex Olah which will lead to NU switching to the 1-3-1 zone earlier in the game. Thankfully, Purdue is not a great shooting team and as long as NU keeps Hammons off the offensive glass they should be able to get spots. The question then become can NU make enough of their own shots to win? Shooting hasn't been an NU strong suit, but I think being back home will help the Wildcats. Tre Demps is a much better player at Welsh-Ryan and I've got a feeling he's going to have a breakout game on ESPN2. I think behind Demps making shots and Jared Swopshire continuing to battle on the glass NU escapes with a narrow margin of victory which they almost lose due to poor free throw shooting. Northwestern, 55 Purdue, 54