By Paul M. Banks
Bill Carmody may not have gotten his Northwestern Wildcats their first NCAA tourney bid last year, but he did accomplish a few things that hadn’t been done before. The Cats set a new school record for home wins with 13, and they finished just one victory shy of the school record for wins in a season. Carmody himself is now 2nd in program history for coaching victories.
This year, they’ll have more games scheduled, and even more games, as their lone road non-conference game is at N.C. State, the ACC’s likely bottom-feeder. They’ll have a school record 19 home games this season, so this could be the year the tourney drought ends. Here are some of Bill’s more notable things that he’s said to the press about the year ahead
This year’s outlook…
“We had a decent year last year and we’re all pretty enthused about some of our wins and heartbroken with some of our losses, but I think our guys are pretty confident that they can play with just about anybody. I think the confidence level is right where it should be, not crazy, but just right where it should be. They’re working hard in practice and that’s good.”
The main two offensive weapons on this team will be the one and two scorers in last night’s 78-49 exhibition win over Robert Morris University- Kevin Coble and John Shurna…
“You have (Kevin) Coble up front who has led us in scoring and rebounding the last three years. He got stronger. Those of you who have been around a while know that when he was a freshman and he came here and he wasn’t really a three-point shooter. He didn’t shoot long shots. He was a scorer, but he’s moved it out further and further. Each year he’s gotten better and now he shoots two-and-a-half steps past that three-point line pretty consistently. He’s getting to the hole, getting to the rim, not getting knocked down as often. Still getting knocked down; he went down three times today on his drives, but he’s definitely stronger and heavier and that’s good.”
“Shurna had a very good summer. He made the Under-19 USA team where he played for about two weeks down in Colorado Springs, made the team, and went to Sydney, Australia, for three or four days then to New Zealand and he was a significant part of that gold-medal winning squad. So he’s confident.”
I would agree. This year Shurna seems more sure of himself both on the court and when he takes the podium to speak with the media this year. Last season, as he was getting used to speaking with the media, he often had a Paulie Bleeker from “Juno” like sheepishness. This fall, he’s got a much more commanding presence.
Defense is often overlooked on all levels of basketball, but stopping people consistently will be critical to this team’s success, and they have a really good, and very underrated defender in swingman Jeremy Nash…
“We haven’t played that much man-to-man, but when you play match-up you have to keep the guy in front of you a little bit. I’d say Nash is pretty good, not just because he steals balls but because, when he wants, he can keep his body in front. Coble is a very good low post defender. Even though he’s a skinny guy, he’s long and he runs around guys. Once they get it, it might be troublesome sometimes but he keeps balls away from guys so he doesn’t have to play defense, which is okay. I think that Kyle (Rowley) and Luka (Mirkovic) will be pretty good defenders. They’ll be pretty good defenders as they move along.”
On scheduling, scheduling teams that could help RPI and if scheduling differently would have helped them make the tournament…
“I don’t think that it matters. I think we had a pretty tough out of conference schedule. You play 30 games and 19 or 20 of them — 19 are against — if you just play one game in the Big Ten tournament against conference foes and then you have the Big Ten-ACC challenge, and we had DePaul last year and Stanford. We had some pretty decent teams in there, and Florida State in the challenge.
I think we lost a couple of games that we sort of gave away and that was the difference. But every program is at a different stage. So you’re trying to balance that out wins and tough schedule and RPI and all that kind of stuff. But I think that last year we hit it just about right. And I think if we held on to a couple of leads, I think we would have gotten into the tournament last year.
Tom Izzo said this is the year they make the tournament. Others are jumping on the purple bandwagon. His response to the idea of the pressure being on him.
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s that much pressure. If you have some good players, which I think we do, we look forward to it. That’s why you’re here. There’s 330 Division I teams and that’s everyone’s goal right now to get in the NCAA. And we’re just really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough year in the conference.
I think we have probably one of our better teams coming up. But just looking around from top to bottom that the league is very strong and so it’s going to be difficult. But I don’t see it’s really pressure. I think the guys sort of embrace that.”
Where Drew Crawford, a two guard who choose NU over Wake Forest and Oklahoma State, fits in…
“Drew Crawford is a true freshman from Naperville. We lost Moore who is a long-range shooter. Drew makes shots, but he’s not the kind of shooter that Craig is. But I think I’m going to throw him in there because he’s a pretty athletic kid. He can score — makes a jump shot. Gets to the basket a little bit. Gets a few rebounds, couple blocked shots.”