In this week’s edition of Joe’s Corner, Joe Misulonas takes a look at the many challenges Northwestern basketball coach Bill Carmody has faced this season.
With 1:30 left in the Northwestern-Ohio State game last night, the Wildcats trailed by only two points. This is incredible, considering the team was without both freshman center Alex Olah, a seven-footer who had come into his own over the last month, and forward Jared Swopshire, the team’s leading rebounder and a key role player. The Buckeyes would go on a run to end the game, but it was still a valiant effort from a team struggling deeply with injuries.
This basketball season has been a tragedy for Northwestern. Many fans had high hopes going into the season, thinking that the Wildcats could possibly make the NCAA Tournament. I was skeptical, even before the loss of JerShon Cobb before the season. Cobb was inconsistent with injury issues, Swopshire was a mostly non-factor on offense, Crawford was a streaky shooter, and there was too much youth on the team for me to consider them a legitimate NCAA Tournament threat.
The one thing I liked about the pre-Cobb suspension Wildcats was Depth. The team would finally have the depth it hadn’t had in years. Sobolewski, Cobb, Crawford, Swopshire and Olah in the starting lineup with Demps, Marcotullio, Abrahamson, Turner, and Cerina all coming off the bench. Perhaps the quality of the bench wasn’t spectacular, but considering Northwestern came one game away from the NCAA Tournament last year playing six-deep most nights, a ten-deep Northwestern squad would be scary sight in the Big Ten. They wouldn’t be contenders, but they could certainly play spoiler enough to make a Tourney run.
Then the injuries hit. Cobb was suspended before the season. Cerina and Marcotullio began the season dealing with injuries, Crawford misses all of conference play, and now Swopshire is out for the season with Olah’s status unknown.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy about this season is that Bill Carmody gave this team depth, only to see it taken away from him. Losing the scoring ability of John Shurna was supposed to be replaced by a solid all-around effort (and Crawford establishing a consistent high scoring ability) that generated enough points to win games.
Carmody has had an up-and-down relationship with Northwestern fans. Most fans would agree that without Carmody, Northwestern never makes the Tourney runs of the past few years. He has crafted an offensive system that allows for Northwestern to keep up with Big Ten programs even though they are usually outmatched, both athletically and fundamentally. Northwestern has upset several ranked opponents that has put them on the Tournament bubble, and you have to give a lot of the credit for that to Bill Carmody.
At the same time, there are always the games that could’ve been. How many games against ranked teams did Northwestern have a lead or take to the wire but let slip away with a turnover or a bad possession? How many times did we see Northwestern hit a big shot, only to give up an easy basket on the other end? Northwestern was one game away from the NCAA Tournament, but there were plenty of opportunities to win that one game. Carmody may have been the reason Northwestern has gotten on the bubble, but many fans questioned whether he could get them into the dance.
And yet, Carmody found a way to assemble a formidable Northwestern squad after losing his top scorer in Shurna. He attracts a seven-foot center who could become the first legitimate post player in the Carmody-era, he added a solid rebounding, decent scoring transfer to leave a Final Four team in favor of Northwestern, he assembles a bench that won’t require all five starters to play 35+ minutes a night. Carmody may have lost Shurna, but he added depth to the Wildcats that hadn’t been seen on any of Northwestern’s Tournament hopeful teams.
No one could blame Northwestern’s struggles this season on Bill Carmody (well, nobody rational). If anything, Carmody has found a way to make this season mildly respectable. Victories over Baylor, Minnesota, and Illinois. A solid showing at home against Indiana and a decent game on the road against the Buckeyes. Carmody has been able to take this decimated Wildcat squad and make them a thorn in the side of the Big Ten behemoths.
Carmody has done a good job holding this team together despite obstacles. Hopefully, this team will be healthy next season, and he can work his basketball magic again to get this team back on the bubble.