Resetting Northwestern’s goals
We have perhaps done this exercise a few times already this season. After JerShon Cobb was suspended the NCAA Tournament goal may have still remained. But after Drew Crawford went down to an injury, it seemed like the reasonably attainable goal was to reach the NIT. Now with Alex Olah out tonight at Ohio State and likely Sunday against Illinois and Jared Swopshire done for the season, the NIT seems like a nice pipe dream.
Finishing .500 seems like a nice dream at this point, considering how difficult the Big Ten can be.
That does not mean Northwestern does not have a lot the team can accomplish this season. That .500 record remains something that would be nice to put under the team’s belt — and keep that streak of winning seasons alive at five. A lot of what Northwestern has yet to accomplish is more than about wins and losses. It is about developing, having pride and playing to the end of the year.
Guys like Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski will do this. It is very much within their DNA to do so. Northwestern can feel fairly certain what it will get from these players production wise on a nightly basis. Hearn will play out his final year giving everything he has got and Sobolewski will do the same with the promise of a strong junior year next year.
What Bill Carmody and Northwestern really have to manage and begin focusing on is developing the young players that will become key for Northwestern’s future. There was all this talk of depth at the beginning of the season that has proven to be a bit of a mirage. Those same players though could make next year’s team that much more deeper because of the improvements they begin making in the final seven games of the regular season. There can be a lot of learning and a lot of experience gained in these final seven games.
So one thing that has to happen is Carmody has to allow players to make mistakes. When the focus is on winning, as it has been for much of this season, mistakes are less tolerable — especially if they begin to compound and the players are not adding much else to the team.
Everyone has been asking why Carmody sticks with Mike Turner as he has struggled through much of the season with Nikola Cerina on the bench collecting dust. Cerina, in fairness, is not 100 percent healthy and you can tell if you watch that he is still not comfortable. Carmody has been hesitant to throw him out there because he has not had a good practice. Certainly with Alex Olah out, Carmody will have no choice but to play Turner and Cerina through their mistakes.
For a young player like Mike Turner, this could be absolutely crucial for his development and building his confidence to play a role next season. Turner has struggled mightily this year, providing very little offense and showing flashes on defense. It seems like he fouls more often than he scores. Giving him some latitude to make mistakes without being taken out can help him implement whatever it is the coaches are telling him to correct in games rather than in practice.
Really, the point is, each practice is a game and each game is a practice. That is how the players have to treat it. Each time they step on the floor, they have to be ready to compete and learn from their mistakes and work to correct them.
If it is time to take the focus off wins and losses, then making sure the players expected to contribute next year get as much time as they can is incredibly important. Too many times this year, even, we have seen Kale Abrahamson go in and out of the lineup quickly. Injuries will obviously force him and Tre Demps into bigger roles. They will have to learn more on the fly and adjust to what the coaches want in real time. This experience should make them better players.
Again this is all theoretical. But with little to lose, throwing them out there will only give Northwestern hints at what it has for future seasons.
And that brings me to the most important goal for NU for the rest of this season. The Wildcats must continue to play hard and compete.
The biggest thing the team can establish the rest of this season is an ethos of giving out all effort even if they are outmanned and facing a talent deficit. The team has to continue to stick together and build momentum through strong play, even if it does not result in wins all the time. That kind of effort will carry over to next year and make next year’s team even better.