The bye week does give us a nice chance to take a basketball aside. And a chance to say what this season is really all about — just like every other season is about it seems at Northwestern.
Despite becoming Northwestern’s all-time winningest coach and leading the team to its fourth straight NIT bid, Carmody is always embattled and always fighitng for his job. The failure to get John Shurna and arguably the most talented team in Northwestern history had many wondering if the program just needed to move in a different direction. The decision sat with Jim Phillips much longer than many expected and the rumors festered.
Phillips opted to keep Carmody and Northwestern continued to move forward — without Shurna, but now with a recruiting class that features a lot of size and give NU unprecedented depth (at least for recent memory) the Tournament dreams are alive again and the hope for breaking that infamous streak remains.
After 11 seasons as head coach, there is frustration among Northwestern fans. Sure, the first five or six seasons, Carmody was clearly getting the most out of a somewhat overmatched roster. A few down seasons (try three Big Ten wins in two seasons bad) and Carmdoy seemed to be on thin ice. Then the NIT run began and the expectations raised. Many began looking at his tenure and wondering, “Why hasn’t he broken through?”
That, to many of his peers, is an unfair criticism even if it makes complete sense to a fan base who is expecting more than just a ribbon for showing up each year.
Big Ten coaches during Big Ten Media Day last week expressed how impressed they are with the job Carmody has done at Northwestern considering all the obstacles he has to overcome in building the program literally from scratch:
I couldn’t figure that one out for the life of me,” Iowa head coach Fran McCafferysaid when he was asked about the rumors NU would drop Carmody after last season. “This guy’s one of the best coaches in the game. He has done an unbelievable job [at Northwestern]. I was sort of baffled by that, to be honest with you.
When you’re trying to climb a mountain,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, “and you’re in a league like the Big Ten, it’s not as easy as people think, saying, ‘ We need to make the NCAA tournament.’ To [Carmody’s] credit, he has put them in a position to be very, very close. There’s nobody pulling harder for him to get it than me.
And so on and so forth. Call those platitudes coach-speak or whatever, but the respect has always been there for Carmody from his time at Princeton to his early years at Northwestern.
That does not help abate the frustration of Northwestern being so close and yet so far from that first NCAA Tournament bid. The frustration among fans is palpable, you would imagine the coaching staff and players are frustrated with it too.
What has changed around Northwestern and what has, perhaps, saved Carmody is the increase in recruiting prowess. Northwestern continues to bring in the best recruiting classes in the program’s history with more highly touted recruits coming in it seems every year. The future of the program remains extremely bright.
One of Carmody’s biggest criticisms throughout his tenure was his poor recruiting. That appears to have been remedied. And so the pressure is on and increasing now that he has the talent to break the streak.
This year will be no different. The players may love Carmody and buy into his coaching. He may finally be reaching recruits. His Princeton Offense may finally become as dangerous as it was when Pete Carrill’s other disciples ran it at Georgetown and elsewhere (even the Lakers are running it… to limited success).
And so, Northwestern will aim high once again, get our hopes up and then see what happens. Carmody will be in the crosshairs once again.
Bowl perceptions under attack
The Gator Bowl came under fire a few weeks ago for allegedly putting down Northwestern as a potential bowl target. Wildcats fans took that pretty hard and disputed that claim (targeting the writer more than the bowl as the bowl representative quoted in the piece was vague.
Northwestern is taking its stance directly to the Gator Bowl and fighting for its bowl profile. The Gator Bowl representative apologized in the piece saying that he did not mean to disrespect Northwestern with his quotes. The Wildcats are still fighting perception it would seem. But Jim Phillips has done a good job selling Northwestern and the football team has climbed in bowl selection. We will see where we go from here.
Soccer needs help for Big Ten share
Northwestern men’s soccer picked up a critical 1-1 tie against Indiana last night in Bloomington. The Wildcats are tied atop the Big Ten with the Nittany Lions right now. They need a Spartans loss or tie this weekend to claim the their second straight Big Ten championship.