Zach Kisfalusi says he doesn’t feel that this Northwestern basketball season was satisfactory and that Wildcats fans need better in the future.
No one thirty years ago would even consider Northwestern men’s basketball average or mediocre. The laughing stock of the Big Ten and the place where talent occasionally arose only to be wasted in the abyss of Welsh-Ryan Arena (McGraw Hall for those above the age of 30) and to be never heard from again for the most part. The Wildcats had never really gotten out of the basement besides a few exceptions but never ascending to the top. This program has never gotten over the hump, even with the recent success of current coach Bill Carmody.
Now with four straight NIT appearances most would think that this team is on the cusp of something bigger and greater but there seem to be more questions than answers arising with this success. Fans, students, alumni, patrons, college basketball supporters, they all want more from this team: a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
As mentioned, the current team is the closest Northwestern has ever been to getting an invite to the exclusive 68 team dance. Progress has made the Cats into a team that is in the conversation now, but my question is for how long is that good enough? When will “close but no cigar” finally wear its welcome for well we still did not make it, again? What is holding this team back from achieving their goal? How long until mediocrity is unacceptable for the Cats?
Well first of all it’s not the talent like most assume. Northwestern has its most talented team ever currently on the floor with guys from John Shurna to JerShon Cobb. Coach Carmody and his staff have assembled a talented club that can compete with any team on any given night as evident with numerous close losses to top tier teams like Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio State. This talent has done exceptionally well at home where the Wildcats drain threes behind the home court advantage of the Wildside and play inspired defense in the 1-3-1 zone. On the road, the team seems to fold much easier, but talent is not the culprit behind this case.
Execution has been a major problem with this team down the stretch in close games, and if you have not noticed, that is all this team plays (hence the nickname Cardiac Cats). One has to wonder that why does this team lose so many close games? Is it lack of consciousness from the players to thrive in the moment? Possibly, but I think that would have worn off eventually. Is it lack of preparation in the scheme of the offense and/or defense? This is definite that the Princeton offense has no quick go-to plays for end of the game situations, yet the 1-3-1 zone does a sufficient job of trapping teams into bad shots late in games.
What is it, you ask? Well the answer is the lack of winning. Now you are probably wondering what I mean. This team does not win close ball games because they do not know how to win collectively. This program breeds a losing mentality from its history to the lack of preparation from its head coach. The Wildcats have the “choke” factor; all the talent and potential to win a game only to lose it late due to lack of execution. Watching this team game in and game out, this quality is the most disheartening of all as the team sucks you into the drama and makes you feel for them like a Hollywood movie only to crush your heart in the end and make you question your love for them in the first place.
Coach Carmody is the common ingredient in all this mayhem. He is currently in his twelfth season with Northwestern and has one year left on his contract. The school has made a record four straight NIT appearances including a run last year to the quarterfinals where the Cats seemed to give away the game late to Washington State. The progress that every program wants to see has stalled just like the Princeton offense with under a minute left in the clock. Carmody has gotten this program from cellar dweller to highly respectable and a dangerous team you do not want to overlook, yet Wildcat supporters want more than that.
They want the glory of Big Ten Championships and a Rose Bowl appearance like in the 90s with the football team. Basketball has never had those feelings of exuberance before on this campus. That is why I and most others are fine with the slow mediocre rise of the football team because we have had the moments before but with basketball enough is enough.
I want someone to lead this program to the promise land. I do not want be in my forties either like many of our alumni who are still waiting. I want to see my team, my school, in my bracket this time of year. The fact that Northwestern is the only major conference school to never make it is not only embarrassing but downright shameful to the Big Ten.
I will not sit here and call for Carmody’s head, but I will say this, next March I do not want this sour taste in my mouth again. If Carmody cannot get us over the hump and on to the next level of progress, then I want someone who can (Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Byrce Drew are you listening). No one deserves to feel the pain we all felt last Thursday or the false hopes some of us felt on Sunday. This season was by no means a satisfactory one.