College basketball media day came and went last week and we at LTP barely made mention of the event. It took place near Chicago and that didn’t even get us to dedicate any time to storylines, quotes or commentary. Yet, as someone who was highly critical of Bill Carmody during the past two seasons, I’ve got to give kudos where they are merited and based on the incredible reloading of personnel, I find myself very optimistic about THIS being the year.
Of course, as luck would have it, the B1G is stacked this season, so our best may not be good enough as the Top 25 is populated with conference members. Indiana is the pre-season #1, Ohio State is #4, Michigan is #5, Sparty is #14 and Wisconsin is #23. There really is no “bottom” of the pack as Iowa has improved and Penn State is never an easy out. Going .500 in conference this year would be a monumental feat if the rankings hold true throughout the year.
We’ll be covering the ‘Cats all season long, which amazingly begins next week with a game against DIII University of Chicago and really doesn’t heat up on the schedule until post Thanksgiving. Perhaps the fact we’ve held out this long on writing about hoops shows just how much focus there has been on a 7-2 football team. As Carmody would say that is not a bad thing.
First, Alex Olah, a 7-1, 275 pound center enters as an instant impact freshman. We also landed the tallest player in NU history, 7-2 Chier Ajou, also an incoming freshman straight out of prep school at St. Thomas More. Ajou is a bit more raw than Olah, but obviously commands a presence. Carmody has been raving about 6-6 swingman Sanjay Lumpkin in the typical Carmody self-deprecating way. Carmody claimed he’s confident he could play him instantly and he wouldn’t get lost out there, which is Bill’s way of saying he’s an instant impact guy in the rotation. Finally, we have 6-7 forward Kale Abrahmason, who fits the NU prototype of a forward sized guy who can drain it from outside. That’s just the incoming freshmen.
The core of the team you already know. Drew Crawford, who Carmody is pushing to takeover the team now that he is a senior (averaged 16.1 ppg), is the anchor of our team. We all know how he can score in huge bunches and play with an athleticism that is rare for our Wildcat teams. Reggie Hearn, a defensive specialist and my favorite guy to watch, has gone from walk-on to starter and he is a key guy to man the top of our defensive zone. Alex Marcotullio, the spotty 3-point marksman and all around Mr. Feisty Guy, is back as a senior as well. Of course, Dave Sobolewski returns after logging incredible minutes and playing admirably for a freshman running the point in the B1G. Tre Demps, the classmate of Sobo who sat out the entire season due to a shoulder injury last year, is back, healthy and gunning for Sobo’s job. Demps has received high praise from NU insiders and is definitely going to be getting a ton of playingtime and may split minutes with Sobo, but also play the two or even the three guard from time to time. Down low, Mike Turner finally will see the floor after sitting last season and I’m really excited to see this guy play as he was not highly coveted out of high school, but has really impressed Carmody with his play above the rim. Turner is a slight build guy, but at 6-8, again adds some length out there for us. Most fans are really excited to see TCU transfer Nikola Cerina, a 6-9 bruiser, play. Cerina was at NU last year but sat out the season due to transfer rules, but is very familiar with the Carmody system and each of the players.
Then, there is Jared Swopshire, the Louisville grad who was on the Cardinals Final Four roster, but after seeing his minutes decline each year, he sought a place where he could be an instant impact guy. Thanks to the one-year-wonder “rule” of graduated player with eligibility, Swopshire gets to play right away. I’m thrilled with this experience influx, again, with his 6-8 size, but moreso from a potential “this is what it takes” winning culture approach.
Obviously there is a Gary Barnettism here – belief without evidence – but at one point late last season I was staring at the future roster in panicsville. I’m simply not going to go in to the “accepting mediocrity” comments thread that inevitably happens and which I in part likely stir. I’m going to just try and be positive and enjoy what I can. The coaching staff did something I didn’t think was possible between seasons and I for one am hopeful that perhaps THIS is the year. Or at least that keeps me going.
Perhaps it is a Chicago fan conditioning thing, that despite frustrations or even disagreements about strategy, personnel management or most specifically, our play designs on final possessions, I’m back and “all in” on the Drew Crawford-led team.
There were many quotes from B1G coaching colleagues that were directly aimed at the type of criticism I propogated last season. Guys like Tom Izzo claimed it was completely unwarranted and Fran McCaffery, Iowa’s head coach, thought it was crazy talk. I read between the lines on their respective support of Carmody to read “you have no freakin’ clue how hard it is to win in Evanston with the facilities, the academic standards etc….”
They’re probably right. I just expect more. Four straight NIT appearances are indeed outstanding in the big picture context of Northwestern basketball history (having only three NIT appearances in the history of the school prior to Carmody’s arrival). I know Jim Phillips expects more. I know Bill Carmody expects more. Collectively, we need to lose the “relative to Northwestern’s dismal basketball history” when benchmarking our program.
The single biggest in-game discrepancy we have on the stat sheet is rebounding. We’ve been horrible under Carmody in this all-important category. As all of those of you who played or coached know, rebounding is about position and technique, not size. Yet, there was no denying our lack of size really made us akin to a run-only football team. We live and die with outside shooting and creating match-ups with back-door cuts.
We now have size. Tons of it. Carmody’s assistants, specifically Tavaras Hardy, did a masterful job of bringing in a combination of a solid recruiting class and transfers to give us the size and bulk in the post we haven’t really ever had. The little buzz there was about hoops last week was about the nine new players we’ll have and how we go 10 deep. This includes the fact that the annual snakebitten personnel issues continued when JerShon Cobb was suspended for an entire season for violation of team rules.
By now you likely can recite all the new players, their size and their style of play. First, the incoming freshmen.